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Nigeria’s “Consequential” Moment

By Carl Unegbu

As Nigerians head to the polls on March 28 for the next general election, they are faced with two choices: re-elect President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or pass the baton to his foremost challenger, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Without a doubt, this will be a critical election for Nigeria. A cost-benefit analysis of Nigeria’s options in the upcoming vote, based on the country’s political past and present needs, would suggest the re-election of the incumbent. The same analysis indicates that the APC would serve the Nigerian democracy better as an opposition party for the next four years.

Jonathan already has a modest record of accomplishments under his belt. For instance, his administration is building new international airports of impressive standards, while refurbishing existing ones. After years of neglect, Nigeria’s railway lines are coming back online, and the network is poised to expand across the country. Meanwhile, several critical construction projects are underway, including the River Niger Bridge, connecting the country’s southeastern and western regions.

But perhaps one of Jonathan’s most significant accomplishments has been in the agricultural sector, where he introduced the e-wallet system. Under this system, farmers are given vouchers to redeem items such as fertilizer, seeds, and other agricultural input, and all at substantial discounts. This system has reduced corruption in the distribution of materials down to zero.   

Furthermore, the Jonathan government, thanks to its efforts on such crises as Ebola and Boko Haram, seems to be the first Nigerian government to begin the critical task of building basic governmental capacity and the institutional knowledge needed for the management of unforeseen problems. These kinds of (institutional) knowledge and (operational) capacity are necessary ingredients in the proper running of today’s nation-state.  

Moreover, between the two major candidates, Jonathan is more likely to faithfully implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, which offers Nigeria its best chance to date of surviving as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society with deep fault lines. One of the game-changing recommendations from the conference is the idea of power rotation among the country’s constituent regions. In a tribal society like Nigeria, this measure unsurprisingly enjoys wide-ranging support because of its perceived potential to give every group a greater sense of belonging in the country.

Despite some of Jonathan’s successes, there have also been a series of failures. Having initially fumbled the government’s response to Boko Haram, Jonathan has also failed to address much of the corruption that runs rampant across many sectors of the economy. The drawbacks imply that the best argument for his re-election is based less on what he has done and more on what his potential to accomplish may be. Moreover, the political climate that now prevails in the country seems to provide reasonable assurances that Jonathan will perform better in the future. The primary feature of this new climate is the emergence of a genuine opposition party.  

The APC has emerged as an entity capable of winning a national vote and displacing the PDP from power. Indeed, Jonathan’s actions since the APC has been on the national scene suggest that his leadership report card would be better today if the APC had been around the whole time that he’s been in office.

That said, the APC is an as yet untested entity that was hastily cobbled together over the past year. More accurately, they can be described as a hodgepodge of strange bedfellows who are not held together by any identifiable set of shared political beliefs other than the desire to grab power at the polls. Predictably, they have not yet presented any concrete proposals, nor any credible specifics about how they will run the country better than the PDP has done. Plus, the political background and moral character of the APC’s membership mirror that of the PDP, including, regrettably, the corrupt inclination to gorge themselves on the goodies of incumbency.

Thus, the danger exists that an APC government may be tempted to disrupt or unduly delay the ongoing implementation of the critical infrastructure projects already begun by the Jonathan administration. And it would do so only to award new contracts to its own supporters or to renegotiate existing contracts at inflated rates and thereby saddle the country with outright financial waste and/or massive cost overruns on these projects.

All things considered, the APC seems to have a bright future in Nigerian politics if it can stay together and serve the country as a dutiful opposition until the next election. However, based on a cost-benefit calculus of the available options, the re-election of Jonathan in 2015 seems like the better option for Nigeria’s national interest in the years ahead. 

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Carl Unegbu is a Nigerian-born American lawyer and journalist. He lives in New York City.

[Photos courtesy of scrolleditorial and JuJu Films]

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