Nigeria always gets a second chance or so many of its
political elites would believe. But after about half a century
of missed opportunities and near misses, sub-Saharan
Africas second biggest economy faces another monumental
obstacle in the form of general elections next April that many
now see as its last chance to get political and economic reform
Nigerian elections have been a high-wire act since the
1950s. With president Umaru YarAduas passing on May
5, the first death in office of an elected Nigerian head of
state, the stakes in the coming polls look certain to rise even
higher. Election talk has already eclipsed the countrys
50th anniversary of independence in October.
The immediate casualty of the looming electoral hurricane,
according to many Nigerian analysts, will be economic and
political reforms Nigeria badly needs to avert a slide from
uncertainty to calamity. The policies that need urgent
attention include a reform of the mainstay oil industry, ending
unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta, cleaning up the
electoral system that made Nigeria a laughing stock after the
last polls in 2007, and revamping a shambolic electricity
More urgently Nigeria needs to address a deficit in its 2010
budget running at over 1.51.6 trillion naira (roughly $10
billion) or 6% of GDP.
The economic reform agenda is now on hold, says
analyst Bismarck Rewane of Lagos-based Financial Derivatives
Company Ltd. He expects all spending and resources to be
targeted at extracting the maximum political capital from the
The reform policies are dead, is the verdict of
public policy analyst Pat Utomi, a presidential candidate in
the 2007 elections, won by YarAdua but roundly condemned
by local and international observers as a sham. The truth
is, its all about power and money. Thats all that
seems to concern our political elite, Utomi says.
YarAduas deputy Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in
on May 6 as president in a swift move in line with
Nigerias American-style constitution. But Jonathans
elevation has raised a serious potential crisis in the ruling
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that could spill over
dangerously in the approach to next years election.
NOT HIS TURN?
Under the PDPs own rule, power should be rotated
between the north and south of the country every eight years.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian Yoruba from the
south-west, was the first beneficiary of the PDP policy.
YarAdua, a northern Muslim, took over after
Obasanjos second four-year term but died before
completing his first mandate. Many influential PDP officials,
including its powerful block of northern governors, expect
Jonathans role to be no more than that of a seat warmer
for a northerner who would take over next year.
Jonathan is from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta, and
under the PDPs zoning formula, would be expected to wait
for his regions turn. Not so, say his supporters and
opponents of the PDP, who have mounted pressure on the former
zoology teacher to seek the presidency next year.
Jonathan has so far given no categorical intention of his
plans, but some of his actions have indicated he is inclined to
run. Many national newspapers reported prominently that PDP
chairman Vincent Ogbulafors resignation this month, after
being charged in court with corruption, was not unconnected
with his earlier statement declaring that Jonathan would not be
qualified to run for the presidency.
Jonathan has picked the politically low-key governor of
Kaduna State, Namadi Sambo, a northerner, as his own deputy.
Ordinarily this would have been interpreted as a shoe-in for
Sambo as the PDPs presidential candidate next year, were
he known to have ambitions for national leadership.
With the elections only months away, Nigerians are bracing
for a fierce internal battle within the PDP over its
presidential nomination. Many PDP insiders dismiss any review
of the partys power rotation rule to accommodate
Jonathan, saying such a move could upset the stability of the
The day Jonathan declares he will run will be the day
the party will initiate moves to impeach him, one senior
PDP member says. And if he should decide to run as a
candidate of another party, thats equally an impeachable
Compounding the political power struggle are the
presidential ambitions of some of Nigerias most powerful
retired generals from the north, notably former presidents
Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari. Not to be left out is
Obasanjos former deputy, Atiku Abubakar, although his
political relevance is diminishing.
Despite these challenging prospects, Nigerias 1999
constitution has shown much greater resilience than any the
country has known. The first successful change of leadership
through the ballot box was recorded under the current
constitution. As flawed as the 2007 elections were, all
electoral disputes, from regional assembly polls to the
presidential ballot, were settled through the law courts. Many
Nigerian politicians speak proudly of this record.
Even the much maligned zoning (power rotation) of the
PDP has been a source of stability, one senior PDB
politician says. Jonathan would not have been president
today if he had not been YarAduas deputy as part of
the PDPs power balancing.
MIXED ECONOMIC OUTLOOK
What is almost indisputable is that the struggle for
political power will dominate the Nigerian agenda up to
elections in April. But if so, it is difficult to see how
Jonathan can keep his focus on key policy decisions he has to
make quickly to prevent Nigeria sliding into double-dip
He has to come up with a concrete plan to finance the
countrys deficit, including $4 billion extended to
Nigerias troubled banks. The government envisages funding
part of the deficit from the sale of oil blocks, but most
analysts see no significant appetite for such an offering from
an outgoing government. Upstream investors are also likely to
adopt a wait-and-see attitude without the passage of
Nigerias new Petroleum Industries Bill to regulate the
sector. It looks unlikely to be passed under the current
Despite the political uncertainty, both Nigerias GDP
and the stock market have shown some resilience. Real GDP grew
by 6.68% in the first quarter of 2010 despite a severe
liquidity crunch facing the domestic market, compared to 4.5%
in the comparable period in 2009. The Nigerian Stock Exchange
rose 1.9% in April to bring the year-to-date level to 26.9%. It
declined by 32% in the same period last year. Oil production
topped 2 million barrels in the first quarter of 2010, almost
twice as much as at the height of the Niger Delta crisis.
The biggest challenge for the domestic economy is how to dig
it out of stagnation after banks virtually stopped lending
following central bank governor Lamido Sanusis
intervention last year to clean up the banking system. The
banks are bracing for new regulatory measures that will notably
abolish the universal banking licence.
The economy is in stagnation; nobody is lending for
productive purposes; you dont know what the next
revolution will be, one analyst says.