Africa’s biggest democracy is scheduled to hold elections next month. They should be postponed, argues Princeton N. Lyman, a Senior Adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Nigeria is heading into these elections with insufficient preparation, extreme tensions, and wracked by Boko Haram, the brutal Islamist insurgency whose murders and kidnappings have shocked the world. Yet there is no national consensus in Nigeria on how to deal with this insurgency, and no one seems prepared to confront it as the national crisis it is, he writes for Foreign Policy:
What outsiders often fail to grasp is that this grim situation is merely the symptom of a deeper malaise: a breakdown of the informal consensus on power sharing between the Muslim north and the Christian south that had guided Nigerian politics for decades. This makes the upcoming contest for the presidency especially fraught, as the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the southeast, seeks reelection after six years in power.
Elections would normally be the way for a nation to chart a path forward to solutions for these problems, notes Lyman, the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria 1986-89, to South Africa 1992-1995, and U.S. Special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan 2001-2013:
But a recent delegation of experts sponsored by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute found serious gaps in election preparations. One of the biggest problems: How to ensure voting for the nearly one million people displaced or controlled by Boko Haram in the northeast, an area of likely support for the opposition. The NDI/IRI delegation also reports an influx of arms to areas into volatile areas like the Niger delta, a stronghold of the PDP. ….Rather than proceeding straight into this train wreck, Nigeria should stop and create a temporary government of national unity (GNU).
It is hard for me to recommend this course of action. I am on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy, which supports the growth of democracy worldwide and consistently champions free and fair elections, he adds:
But the political system in Nigeria today is dysfunctional, and this reality, combined with the breakdown of law and order in the northeast, is taking the country down. It is time for leaders from all walks of life to step forward and change this direction. A government of national unity is not a perfect solution, and creating and implementing it is likely to prove challenging. But right now it offers the best way of avoiding an impending implosion.