by Conor Godfrey on April 19, 2011
I had been waiting to write a blog about Attahiru Jega for quite some time, and over the last few days the international acclaim over Nigeria’s relatively free and relatively fair elections made it seem like I would have the chance!
As I write this, however, violence is escalating in the North where aggrieved Muslim supporters of losing candidate Muhammadu Buhari have taken to the streets alleging electoral fraud.
You know what—I am going to go out on a limb and say this unrest is transitory—this election was a success in the Nigerian context, and I want to celebrate one of the people that made it happen.
So back to the original story….
57 percent of Nigerians have asked for Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to stay for another four years!
This looks to be sufficient to avoid a runoff with General Muhammadu Buhari, but that will depend on the Electoral Commission’s investigations into vote rigging.
How can we trust the Electoral commission you ask?
Wasn’t the electoral commission a problem in that other North-South divided African country, Cote d’Ivoire was it?
Ah-ha: Enter the Miracle Maker.
On June 8th Goodluck Jonathan asked Mr. Jega to leave his comfy academic life and make this Nigerian election different by heading up the head of the Nigerian National Election Commission.
At the time, the international community and Nigerian pundits were exerting tremendous pressure on the newly minted president to deliver credible elections, and appointing someone with Mr. Jega’s anti-corruption zeal was the only way to deliver on that promise.
Read Mr. Jega’s address to the nation when he accepted the office—good rhetoric at a minimum.
As soon as he took office, Me. Jega scrapped the ridiculous Nigerian voter registry and created a new one. He then instituted a voting system where voters check in locally to register on election day, and then stay there to observe the entire process right up until the results are posted.
That means a long hot day in the sun, but it is harder to stuff ballot boxes, and then publicly announce false results, when all the voters are milling outside the building.
So for the last two weeks, Nigerians have confidently and peacefully voted in peaceful, fair, parliamentary and presidential elections.
Let me say that one more time. During the last two weeks, Nigerians have voted in two sets of free and fair elections.
This is a big deal! If a country of 160 million people with intense, divisive social fractures can pull this off, then how can other African leaders claim that they do not need to be accountable to their people?
The system is still a bit ridiculous of course.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party is a platform-less ‘giant smoky back room’ where Nigerian elites gather to split up the pie.
But they actually lost ground in the parliamentary elections…how novel is that?
Over the last decade, Nigerian elections have been conducted by bringing duffel bags of cash into party caucuses for distribution to PDP power brokers.
I would encourage anyone to read the Nigeria chapter in Richard Dowden’s creatively titled book, Africa.
His anecdotes will make you realize what a success this election was.
Or, you can read this informative Q&A with Nigeria expert Peter Lewis.
I just checked the headlines again before publishing this piece…the violence is still getting worse in the North.
Still, I say it mostly blows itself out over the next week. I will write a blog eating my words next week if I’m wrong.