By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

In the past year, mainstream news outlets have accentuated Nigeria’s extremist Boko Haram, reporting how the group has kidnapped, bombed and murdered Nigerians to promote their Islamic values. Though the threat that Boko Haram poses is the nation’s foremost security problem, it is only one item of debate between the two presidential candidates. With the election scheduled for February 14, incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and challenger Muhammadu Buhari are pushing their opposing policies, but both are testing the limits of Nigeria’s infant democracy.

Boko Haram formed in 2002 in Nigeria’s northeast, a predominantly Muslim region. Only in 2009 did the group take to widespread violence to make its political statements. Its goals to promote sharia law and “forbid western education” have led to the deaths of around 5,000 Nigerians [1]. Most recently, Boko Haram has taken to large-scale assaults on cities in the northern region of the country, hinting at the growing strength and ambitions of the group.

In spite of the upcoming elections, President Jonathan has taken a less than stern stance on fighting the insurgents. Rather than focusing on boosting military efforts, he has passed off the issue as a regional problem. Though he has promised to rebuild villages razed by Boko Haram, President Jonathan has drawn accusations of posturing from Mr. Buhari. As a former military leader, Mr. Buhari has had no difficulties in gaining popularity with his campaign platform, built upon the promise of eradicating “the first problem of the country.” While Boko Haram has divided Nigeria’s political landscape, it has distracted the nation from working towards sturdier foundations as a developing economy.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, mainly because it is also Africa’s leading oil producer and exporter. Nigeria’s reliance on oil is a prime example of a resource curse; that is, Nigeria has relied on oil for economic growth rather than expand its other industries. Its dependence is particularly relevant now that the increased international supply has forced exporters in Nigeria to lower prices. This has caused the Nigerian Naira to fall to record lows. Though the government is aware of the crippling effect of oil dependence, it is not likely to implement substantial stabilization efforts until the elections are over.

To counteract the resource curse, President Jonathan has announced the necessity of reviving agriculture, an industry that was overshadowed upon the discovery of oil fields. In a recent speech at the 2015 Agriculture Festival, he labeled himself as the “farmers’ president” and went on to say that “agriculture is now the lifeline for Nigeria.” If he is successful in increasing the output and efficiency of Nigeria’s agriculture sector, President Jonathan will be able to aid rural economies and increase the country’s trade potential.

While Jonathan discusses forming a less volatile economy, Buhari aims to increase accountability of those overseeing the economy. Recently, Mr. Buhari announced his goal to eliminate corruption within the Nigerian government. Nigeria has a long history of corruption at all levels of the government, which has typically included skimming government funds or entitling benefits to oil companies in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Mr. Buhari sees corruption as the main obstacle between Nigeria and a strong economy. However, because of such an entrenched pattern of corruption and the nature of campaign promises—President Jonathan has himself been accused of corruption—it is easy to take Mr. Buhari’s goal with a grain of salt.

The upcoming elections carry greater magnitude considering that Nigeria’s democracy is only 16 years old. Because of enduring tension between the Islamic military leaders of the North and the more Christian leaders of the South, the country uses a system called zoning to balance power [2]. Zoning requires that if a president is from the north, the vice president must be from the south, and vice versa. Furthermore, when a president’s term is up, the next president must come from the opposite region. When President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died in 2010, then-vice president Jonathan took over as president [3]. Because he is running for the office, President Jonathan has broken the zoning rule. His blatant disregard for rules, informal or not, brings into question whether or not Jonathan is a truly democratic leader. However, if he wins, he will prove the people’s desire for economic reorganization and reform over the necessity for democratic procedure. If Mr. Buhari is elected, it will stem from his promise of security. His history as a dictator will be proven irrelevant as long as he can provide safety from Boko Haram.

Nigeria needs stability if it is to remain Africa’s most economically powerful nation. This entails fighting back any and all terrorist threats, as well as implementing long-term reforms to diversify the nation’s economy and to reduce corruption. And because Nigeria houses two main contentious regional groups, these stabilizing efforts only carry a guarantee if done under cooperative terms. Both candidates are capable of implementing at least some of the necessary reforms, but if either refrains from acting on democratic terms, Nigeria risks bending to each economic and military threat alike.

Image by World Economic Forum


[1] Sergie, Mohammed A., and Toni Johnson. “Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Ansaru.”Council on Foreign Relations (2014): n. pag. Web.

[2] Campbell, John. “Electoral Violence in Nigeria.” Council on Foreign Relations(2010): n. pag. Web.

[3] Ibid.

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