After the postponement of Nigeria’s election in February 2015, the new date set by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 28th March 2015, is fast approaching. However, there continues to be concern over the validity of the reason given for the delay and growing speculation that another postponement may follow.
The reason provided for the initial postponement by INEC was that the security of the elections “could not be guaranteed”. This assessment was primarily based upon a letter sent by the President’s National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, which led to allegations that the decision came from within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and not INEC. Sources from the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and within INEC told Africa Integrity that they saw this as a political rather than a security decision, made by a party which faces its greatest electoral threat yet. This assertion is not merely political rhetoric as all indicators point to this being the closest election in Nigeria since its return to democracy in 1999.
The main security threat cited in the initial postponement was the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast of the country. This helped stoke speculation that further postponements should be expected as questions were raised over how the Nigerian military could end an insurgency, currently in its sixth year, in six weeks. Although there have been significant successes for the Nigerian military, and their regional partners – such as the retaking of Bama in Borno State on 16th March 2015 – Boko Haram still poses a threat, especially to the election. The militant Islamist group appear to be resorting to their previous tactics, using suicide bombers and focussing on ‘soft targets’, and the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has specifically vowed to disrupt the election. This is significant as polling stations may well be considered ‘soft targets’.
Thus, as the new date approaches concerns increase amongst the opposition over the possibility of another delay. As insecurity in the northeast was accepted as the initial reason for a postponement, the grounds for further delays remain until the threat posed by Boko Haram is removed. Nonetheless, opposition sources informed Africa Integrity that if the election is postponed again, their reaction will be far less tame than first time round. A number of sources, including some from within the PDP, said that large scale protests and unrest should be expected if another postponement is announced. Furthermore, the same sources also told Africa Integrity that even if the election goes ahead on 28th March 2015, any evidence, either real or perceived, of electoral fraud on the part of the PDP, will spark similar protests. Thus, INEC’s impartiality, and the public’s perception of this, will play a vital role in the election. In the eyes of the opposition, the security of INEC’s Chairman, Attahiru Jega, within the organisation is key to ensuring its impartiality. Following the postponement of the election, some APC members alleged that the PDP was using the delay to try to remove Jega and replace him with a more pliable figure, who would help them to rig the election. This suspicion has been given greater credence recently as pro-Jonathan supporters marched in Lagos on 17 March 2015 calling for Jega’s removal. If the PDP government decides to remove Jega before the election, political tensions will increase and it is highly likely that the APC will accuse the government of electoral fraud and organise protests over the decision.
Given these conditions, the likelihood of large-scale social unrest and political violence is high as Nigeria prepares to go to the polls. This election has the potential to cause widespread instability across the country and, as well-informed sources told Africa Integrity, the Nigerian military is willing to intervene if any unrest that does occur appears to be out of control. On balance, such intervention is likely to favour the PDP rather than the opposition.