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Nigeria’s battle for stability (II)

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By John Campbell

Often referred to as "zoning," the arrangement was intended to keep sectarian identity out of presidential politics and promote an elite consensus in favor of a single candidate. Hence, the southern Christian Olusegun Obasanjo held the presidency from 1999 to 2007. He was succeeded by Umaru  Yar'Adua, a northern Muslim, who was expected to hold the presidency until 2015.
Yar'Adua's death upset this rotation by restoring a southern Christian to the presidency before the North had completed its turn. According to the Nigerian press, it was widely understood that Jonathan would hold the presidency only until the 2011 elections if Yar'Adua were to die. Then he would step aside for a northern Muslim candidate to preserve zoning. Jonathan would then run for the presidency in 2015, when it would again be a southern Christian's turn.
Perhaps under pressure from members of his Ijaw ethnic group and other southern groups hitherto excluded from the upper reaches of government, Jonathan reversed himself and ran for the presidency in 2011. Employing the power of incumbency, he defeated the northern Muslim Atiku Abubakar for the PDP presidential nomination at the January 2011 party convention, which participants described as an "auction" for delegate support. As a result of Jonathan's decision to end zoning, the presidential election became a polarizing contest between the incumbent and northern Muslim Muhammadu Buhari.
To secure victory, Jonathan's political allies spent large sums of money to win the support of incumbent governors who control the election process in many states. In the North, they also co-opted certain traditional Muslim rulers, and the sultan of Sokoto openly supported him.
It is difficult to know how much public money was spent for political purposes during this period. The lack of transparency in official expenditures, such as from Nigeria's Excess Crude Account, creates the appearance that state resources could easily be used on behalf of incumbents. For example, the Excess Crude Account dropped from about $20 billion (in U.S. dollars) when Yar'Adua assumed the presidency in 2007 to $3 billion when Jonathan became "acting president," then rose to approximately $5 billion. There has been little credible explanation for the fluctuations. According to the central bank, foreign reserves fell from $34.6 billion in 2010 to $30.86 billion in 2011. They have since recovered to $32.8 billion. (Throughout this period, oil prices have been high.)
The April 2011 elections, despite being hailed by international elections observers as better than the 2007 "election-like event," appear to have been rigged strategically in certain places to ensure Goodluck Jonathan's victory. To avoid a runoff, he needed a countrywide plurality of total ballots cast and at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the country's thirty-six states. In the Christian Southeast, Jonathan's vote totals were in the range of 97-99 percent. This guaranteed that he met the first requirement. Twenty-six of the thirty-six governors were from the ruling PDP, and governors were deeply involved in the conduct of the elections. Two or three governors in the North likely ensured that
Jonathan received more than 25 percent of the vote in their states, thereby meeting the second requirement. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the ostensibly independent body that conducts elections, reported Jonathan's share of the vote in Sokoto-Buhari's home state-as 35 percent; in Gombe, 38.5 percent; and in Jigawa, 38.7 percent. These numbers seem high for the sharia heartland.
While the president appoints the chair of the INEC, his authority over the state electoral commissioners is limited; they are often beholden to the governors. Jonathan appointed Attahiru Jega, an American-educated academic known for his integrity, as INEC chair.
Under Jega's leadership, the registration and voting processes improved, though they remained far from perfect. In more places than in the past, polling stations opened, ballots were available and security-service intimidation declined. However, in other areas it is widely believed that registration numbers were inflated, ballot boxes were stuffed and vote tabulation was manipulated sufficiently to ensure Jonathan's victory without a runoff. If the mechanics at the polling places in 2011 were an improvement, the outcome of the elections remained elite business as usual, albeit with more sophisticated methods than in the past.
Not surprisingly, in the southern half of the country people generally believed the election was credible and accepted Jonathan's victory. But in the predominantly Muslim North, Jonathan's national victory was widely viewed as fraudulent. The announcement of his victory sparked three days of riots in northern cities in which at least one thousand people were killed, making the 2011 elections the bloodiest in Nigeria's history. The private houses of the sultan of Sokoto and the emirs of Kano and Zaria were destroyed because they had supported Jonathan. What started as protests against the largely Muslim political establishment, which was believed to have sold out to Jonathan, degenerated into ethnic and religious violence. Today, many in the North continue to see the elections as lacking  legitimacy.
The Abuja government appointed a panel to investigate the causes of the violence, informally called the Lemu Panel after its chairman, Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, a prominent retired Islamic judge. The text of the report has not been made public, but Chairman Lemu's public comments on the report amount to an indirect indictment of Nigeria's current political economy. He concludes that the postelection violence resulted from widespread frustration with Nigeria's poverty, corruption, insecurity and inequality, as well as with the inability of successive governments to address these issues.
Nigeria's vast oil reserves underpin its economy and its dysfunctional political culture.
Its oil comes from the Niger Delta and from offshore platforms in the Atlantic's Gulf of
Guinea. Though these oil reserves constitute the source of much of Nigeria's wealth, the region is remarkably underdeveloped. Fifty years of oil exploitation have led to numerous environmental accidents, hindering the traditional aquaculture of the indigenous people.
For example, some environmental NGOs estimate that the region suffers from oil spills equivalent in magnitude to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill each year. While there is a multitude of ethnic groups, the most prominent are the Itsekiri and the Ijaw, who in certain areas compete for turf and power. Governance in the region has been particularly corrupt, fueled by oil revenue to state and local governments with little or no accountability. The line between politics and thuggery is thin.
The result of this witches' brew has been a low-level insurrection that has waxed and waned for years. At times, insurgents have been able to shut down significant amounts of petroleum production, which has had a serious impact on international markets. At other times, federal and state governments have bought off militants-but never for long because the fundamental grievances that fuel the insurrection are never addressed.
As an Ijaw from Bayelsa state in the Niger Delta, Jonathan was widely expected to address Delta grievances, building on President Yar'Adua's 2008 amnesty for militants.
But the disarmament, education and reintegration included in the amnesty have been incomplete. Instead, the most salient characteristic of the amnesty has been payoffs to militant leaders. While the insurrection in the Delta has been relatively quiet, it will likely escalate as new militant leaders rise to replace co-opted ones. Kidnappings and piracy are increasing; oil-production facilities have been attacked; and new militant leaders have expressed dissatisfaction with the government's focus on insecurity in the North. In 2012, shadowy Delta groups are threatening the region's small Islamic community, ostensibly in revenge for Boko Haram attacks on Christians in the North.
The suicide bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja galvanized international attention on Boko Haram, the violent radical Muslim sect centered in the Northeast that claimed responsibility.
John Campbell is the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council
on Foreign Relations. He served as U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007.

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