Magazine article New African

Election 2011 a New Era in Nigeria?

Magazine article New African

Election 2011 a New Era in Nigeria?

Article excerpt

Many Nigerians are hoping that whoever wins the April elections, it will not be business as usual in the country. On paper, the incumbent president, Jonathan Goodluck appears to be the strongest candidate. If he wins on his own merit (he came to power last year after the death of his boss, President Umaru Yar'Adua), it will mean a major shift of Nigeria's power centre towards the minorities. Ben Asante reports.

THERE ARE SIGNS THAT NIGERIA'S power centre may shift with the entry into this year's presidential race of a leading candidate in the form of the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, who comes from the minority South-South zone away from the traditional and long predominant power centres of the majorities of the East, West and North.

To be precise, Nigerians may have arrived at the point where the place of origin of a candidate does not matter; rather, competence, performance and personal appeal may be the factors that count in who occupies the highest office (or offices) in the land. And that might be the situation when the nation goes to the polls--starting with legislative elections on 2 April, presidential on 9 April, and gubernatorial on 16 April (that is, if the electoral commission does not change its mind, which at the time of going to press it had not done).

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On whichever date the presidential elections are held, President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan will be vying for the top job with three other main candidates--General Muhammadu Buhari (Congress of Progressive Change party), Ibrahim Shekarau (All Nigeria People's Party), and Nuhu Ribadu (Action Congress Nigeria party). On paper, Jonathan, with the ruling People's Democratic Party's machinery behind him, should win hands down. But that is only on paper! In reality, anything can happen.

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These elections will be a litmus test for Nigeria's efforts in achieving free, fair, clean, and credible elections, as promised by Jonathan when he came into power last year, after the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua. The newly reconstituted Independent National Electotal Commission (INEC), headed by Prof. Atahiru Jega, has the difficult task of living up to Jonathan's promises. The last elections held in 2007 were viewed by many as less than credible, a fact that was acknowledged by even the late President Yar'Adua, the major beneficiary of those flawed elections.

Because of this experience, large numbers of Nigerians, led mainly by civil society groups and the country's lawyers, have been demanding that the authorities take urgent measures (including the reforms of the electoral rules) to ensure that there are free, fair and credible elections this time around. In response, the government initiated a long and costly process of electoral reforms. It began with the setting up of the Uwais Commission, made up of legal experts and people from all walks of life, to collect views nationwide aimed at improving the conduct of elections. The collated views were subjected to several months of public debate. The longstanding problem had not been the lack of laws to govern the process but, precisely, the absence of political goodwill and an adherence to rules. Thus the time to turn the corner may be this year, especially when last November Jonathan, as chairman of the regional body, Ecowas, led the regional group to threaten to use military force to settle an electoral dispute in Cote d'Ivoire. …

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