Election Season – Nigeria

If you’re not reading Mullings by Rich Galen, go subscribe to his cyber column right now. Not only has he been involved in a heck of a lot of the action in Washington, DC in the last 20 years, he brings one of the most interesting – and unique – perspectives to issues of the day. So, go ahead.  I’ll be here when you get back.

Now that you’ve done that, I’ll tell you how that relates to the election in Nigeria.  Rich was among an international delegation that was in Nigeria to observe their national election.  In his April 18, 2011 column, he reminds us why we should care about the Nigerian government:

Nigeria is important to the United States because it is one of our largest oil suppliers. In fact, in January of this year it was our fourth largest supplier behind only Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia and just ahead of Venezuela.

There’s a heck of a lot of money we’re sending to Nigeria and a pretty good chunk of the fuel we use to power our vehicles coming back in return.  And, until we’re willing to go get more of our own domestic oil and gas, it’s in our national interest to ensure that relationship continues.

Unfortunately, violence around election time is a way of life in Nigeria.  An article in The Economist leading up to the April 16 elections sets the stage:

Violence is an integral part of Nigerian politics. That is still sadly true, even though reforms have made this year’s elections much cleaner and fairer than previous ones.

Estimates of killings range from 100 to 200, excluding victims of violent conflicts that were fanned by politicians but not specifically tied to the elections. On April 8th, a day before the parliamentary poll, a bomb exploded at an electoral office near the capital, Abuja, and thugs attacked a police post storing voting materials in the north-east, killing at least 12 people. The news barely raised eyebrows in Nigeria, where voters are used to spikes in violence at election time. Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel prize for literature, calls it “the Nigerian way of dying”.

Nigerian President Goodluck Johnathan

Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, who came to power when his predecessor died in office, was elected with almost 22.5 million of the nearly 40 million votes cast (57%).  His support came mostly from the Christian south while that of his opponent, Muhammadu Buhari, was primarily in the Moslem north. In winning the election, Jonathan will now have the very difficult task of governing a country that is divided geographically, religiously, and economically.

After independence from Britain in 1960, the understanding among Nigerians for many years was that the less advanced north held political power, while the south, where Christianity and Western-style ideas have long held sway, controlled the economy.

But that implicit north-south deal was always on shaky ground.

Southern soldiers staged Nigeria’s first coup in January 1966, killing mainly northern political and military leaders.

That sparked a 30-month civil war, killing more than a million from fighting and starvation, ending with the north firmly in control when the breakaway Biafra republic surrendered.

It’s heartbreaking to realize how many people have died – and continue to die – over the struggle for power in the most populous country on the African continent.  It is a reminder that even democracy isn’t easy.  We should never take for granted what a rarity it is in all of human history to live in a country where we hand over power peacefully every four to eight years, no matter how vehemently we might disagree with those who are taking the reins.  To have been doing so for more than 225 years is all the more amazing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: