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Nigeria's Interminable Problems and Politicians
Africa's Joe Biden Enters the World Stage
“At the present time political office and military power, indeed all public service, is utterly undesirable…The use of force to rule over one’s country and subjects, even though you could and might correct abuses, is still a risky thing, especially when every change of circumstances brings with it slaughter, exile, and other acts of hostility. On the other hand, it is the height of madness to labour in vain and to acquire from one’s efforts nothing but exhaustion and hatred; unless, of course, one is possessed by some dishonourable and dangerous desire to sacrifice one’s self-respect and freedom to the powerful interests of the few.”
- Sallust [The Jugurthine War, 3]
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Introduction: An Indecisive Election
Nigeria held its Presidential election on Saturday, February 25, 2023. The Western policy class was intensely interested in Nigeria in the lead-up to the election, on the grounds of the importance of preserving democracy in Africa’s most populous state. The contest saw three old men seeking power in a country where over half of registered voters are under 35. The winner, or so we are told, is 70 year old Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, the same party as the outgoing President. This frail, confused, notoriously corrupt politician is perhaps the most Biden-esque figure to hit the international political stage besides the man himself. Tinubu won with a plurality of only 37% of votes, well below the combined 54% of his two main opponents, who both claim the election was invalid. Their claims are reinforced by what will be a familiar issue to Americans: delays in reporting caused by a new electronic vote-reporting system. What’s more, the public went into the polls irate, due to a severe, government created, cash shortage being thrown on top of the country’s many existing problems. Election day has come and gone, but it is far from clear if this populous, diverse, mineral-rich country can survive as a unified democracy. If it violently fails, it will be a disaster for humanity.
Background: A Nation of Youth and Strife
I will begin with a brief background on Nigeria, as the country is mostly known in America for the notorious “Nigerian Prince” internet scam whereby someone tries to convince you he needs help transferring money out of the country. However, there is a lot more to Nigeria. It is the most populous country in Africa, having a current population of 218 million, making it the 6th most populous country in the world. It is also rapidly growing. Nigeria has the largest youth population in the world, with a median age of 18.1; the population could double in the next 30 years. Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups, though just four, Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, and Ijaw combine to make up almost 80% of the country’s population. The country is near evenly split between [mostly Sunni] Muslims and [mostly Protestant] Christians. There has been a sort of understanding that the Presidency alternated between the north and south, and that each ticket would be split between the religions. This ended this election when the People’s Democratic Party chose a northern candidate and the Muslim Tinubu chose a Muslim running mate. Radical Islamic terrorism is a major problem in northern Nigeria where Islam is the majority religion. There are also several ethnic separatist movements, some of them armed. In fact, the country is said to have over 80 active militant groups.
Nigeria was once a colonial possession of the British Empire, and the countries maintain strong relations; Nigeria has the second largest Anglican Church by baptized members. The country is on its “Fourth Republic” since being granted independence in 1960. Nigeria’s current democracy began in 1999, when, following the death of dictator Sani Abachi in 1998, General Abdulsalami Abubakar took power and voluntarily relinquished it to civilian control. The winner of that election was General Olesegun Obasanjo, a previous military ruler who had also voluntarily relinquished power to civilian rule; the losing candidate accused him of cheating in that election, but international observers said any irregularities would not have impacted the result.
Nigeria’s enormous, rapidly growing capitol, Lagos, is the trade and financial center of West Africa. Lagos gains an estimated 500,000 new residents annually, meaning just the new arrivals would be roughly the population of the major American city of Atlanta. The city suffers from a severe shortage of legal housing, caused by the unprecedented growth rate, and Lagos Island in the Lagos Lagoon has the most expensive real estate in Africa. It is expected that as the population increases so will the global importance of Lagos in financial and commodity markets. [Most of what I have previously known about this city comes from an incredible 2010 documentary series called Welcome to Lagos, about humans adapting to extreme urban environments. I was the most struck by the innovation, religiosity, and extreme optimism of the country’s poor.]
The Niger Delta is a major oil-producing region, though production has been reduced due to technical and security challenges. Nigeria’s top exports are petroleum products, primarily crude oil. Other main exports are cocoa and gold. Due to the country’s large population and relatively undeveloped economy, it is a major importer of a lot of manufactured goods. Nigeria is also a major wheat importer, and like many countries is dependent on Black Sea grain, most of all from Russia. Bread prices were already increasing before the Russia-Ukraine War and have gone up further. An estimated 25 million people, or around 10% of the country’s population, is at risk of food insecurity in 2023. Nigeria also has enormously powerful criminal cartels, and is a major transit point for most illicit products. Nigerian criminal gangs have spread throughout Africa, where they control a great deal of the criminal activity, and across the world.
Unlike some countries where the West seems to have a compulsive desire to meddle for its own sake, Nigeria’s stability is legitimately a matter of global concern. For one thing, its sheer size makes it an important part of the global economy, even as a poor country. Though I can’t find it now, in the past I’ve seen a list of “top events which could cause an oil spike,” which listed terrorism in the Niger Delta as one of the most likely [though it wouldn’t cause the most extreme spike.] Poverty and instability exacerbate crime and terrorism, which have already spread outwards from Nigeria under current conditions. Further, a refugee crisis originating in Nigeria would truly flood Europe due to Nigeria’s population and high birth rate: Nigeria has a higher population than all the countries making up Europe’s current refugee crisis combined. Beyond which, a civil war in Nigeria would cause human suffering on a massive scale, and further destabilize the already incredibly unstable Sahel region to the immediate north. While I am generally the first to see nefarious motives in Western involvement, there are many genuine reasons why the outside world should want a stable Nigeria. Still, I’m yet to see human suffering that global financial interests do not look for a way to exploit.
The Issues: Shortages and Security
Nigeria has a lot of problems, and has for a long time. Like most of sub-Saharan Africa, it has struggled to find its way as an independent country and has suffered from instability, corruption, poverty, and disease. Reuters describes the country’s state as follows:
“Nigeria is struggling with Islamist insurgencies, an epidemic of kidnappings for ransom, conflicts between farmers and herders, high inflation, widespread food insecurity and a shortage of cash that has caused chaos in people's daily lives.”
The shortage of cash relates to a government scheme to promote an eCurrency, which I will get to shortly. What is noteworthy to me, is that the conflict between farmers and herders is seen as the theme of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, and thus in Western tradition it is humanity’s oldest known conflict, and that co-exists in Nigeria with the very modern problem of a government digital payment scheme. Any of these topics could be its own piece. For our purposes here, I’m going to briefly discuss fuel shortages, security, and the currency crisis, which was by far the one of the most public interest at the time of the election.
Regarding Nigeria’s persistent commodity shortages, Nairametrics likened it to the famous Milton Friedman quote, “If you put the Federal Government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years, there will be a shortage of sand.” Writing in 2022 the author Opeoluwa Dapo-Thomas explained,
“The past few decades have been marred by one impending shortage crisis or the other. Successive government has intentionally tried solve these issues with policies that end up being inadequate. Just as Milton Friedman also puts it - “One of the greatest mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.””
In short, Nigeria’s political class is always coming up with one scheme or another to deal with a shortage, but either it doesn’t work at all or a new problem is created. Beyond serious problems with food insecurity, a major and persistent problem has been a shortage of usable fuel. Like many oil producing countries, Nigeria primarily exports crude oil and imports refined gasoline, though Nigeria exports gasoline it refines at around 1/10th of its import rate, with gasoline as its #3 export by value. The fuel shortages create major problems for consumers and small businesses. In 2022 a man who drives people in what is described as a “tricycle” for a living explained his struggle to Al Jazeera,
“We buy at an exorbitant rate and it is almost impossible to increase the fares because most of the passengers cannot afford it,” said Arinakore who told Al Jazeera that he got his tricycle on hire purchase and therefore has to meet his daily payment.
When he is lucky to find a petrol station selling, he must pay a series of bribes; first to those manning the gates and then to those operating the nozzle.”
He also explains that at the time the official rate $.40 a liter while black market gasoline was $1.20 a liter. All of this while spending huge amount of money subsidizing petroleum imports. To an American none of this initially makes sense, for example, why would you be bribing the man at the pump instead of just paying what gas costs? What, but being cheaper by avoiding taxes, would be the purpose of black market fuel? The answer lies in the fact that at the time a government entity called NNPC had a monopoly on the domestic Nigerian oil industry. It still does, however, it was transformed into a for-profit company in 2022 following years of corruption and bribery problems. Basically, since Nigeria is a poor country and gasoline is a global market, the government decided it was necessary to heavily subsidize and control the industry so it was affordable to Nigerians, and it never worked properly. I find it incredible, that being the case, they didn’t simply build the refinery capacity for the country’s domestic supply, especially given that the state owns the oil so then only has to pay the production costs. However, the country remains reliant on colonial-era refineries in poor condition with low refining capacity. The privatization of NNPC should make Nigeria’s fuel more reliable, but will always suffer from problems inherent to this kind of unnecessary government granted monopoly.
Regarding security, Nigeria suffers from a great deal of violence. The most famous terrorist group is the notorious Boko Haram, an Islamist group which opposes Western education and is known for its attacks on schools. The country also suffers from rampant kidnapping for ransom, which is described as a “lucrative industry.” The US State Department lists Nigeria as “Advisory Level 3” which means, “reconsider travel,” while certain states are listed as “Advisory Level 4,” “avoid travel.” Their recommendations are frankly terrifying, if you read the list of risks you will face if you choose to travel to Nigeria. While Nigeria doesn’t seem like an obvious tourist destination, there is abundant wildlife as well as historic sites, and with better security it could have a lucrative tourism industry. The country also has persistently high levels of street crime.
Security was a top concern for voters in this election, both in the sense of their everyday safety as well as concerns about election related violence. This is largely seen as as systemic problem driven by the country’s widespread poverty. There is no easy solution to the many disparate security concerns. Unfortunately, insecurity hinders economic growth, and security requires funding. Ordinary Nigerians are tired of living in fear of crime and terrorism, and it is a major failure of the leadership class and ruling party that the security has deteriorated as bad as it has in the last few years.
The most interesting problem in Nigeria- which I considered writing a whole article about a few weeks ago- is the cash shortage. The country’s ruling class has long wanted a “cashless society.” This, of course, is one of those things American “conspiracy theorists” go on about quite a lot, but in Nigeria the rulers are open about this policy. One is left to wonder if the global financial powers are using Nigeria as a test run. The country launched an eCurrency, the eNaira, in 2021. It has not been popular. What governments can’t understand is that not being associated with governments is the main thing people like about cryptocurrency. A government crypto is no different than having normal fiat currency on a debit card.
In the fall of 2022, the Nigerian government announced it would be redesigning its higher currency bills and pulling the old ones from circulation. This plan was put in place for a lot of reasons, most of all due to rampant counterfeiting. However, they seem to have thought this currency redesign would solve all of their problems. Writing for The Conversation, Stephen Onyeiwu explains:
“The bank says the new banknotes are being introduced to rein in counterfeiting, promote a cashless economy by limiting the amount of the new banknotes that can be withdrawn, reduce the large quantity of dirty notes circulating in the economy, discourage hoarding, curb crimes like kidnapping and terrorism, and head off illicit financial transactions.”
Further, it is widely considered that part of the policy and the timing was to reduce the practice of vote-buying by making large quantities of cash unavailable.
The slow rollout of the new notes, a near-future date for turning in old notes, and cash withdrawal limits at banks unleashed chaos on the country. Businesses can’t open because they can’t buy supplies and customers don’t have cash, people miss work to wait in line at banks or because they can’t pay for rides. Much of the low-level commercial activity in Nigeria has been brought to a halt wholly due to lacking a medium of exchange. A big part of the problem is even if people did want to use it, the digital payment system in Nigeria doesn’t work well enough to rely on; I’m reminded of California’s plan to ban gas cars when everyone knows the state lacks reliable electricity. As Simi Jolaoso quipped writing for BBC, “The reform has created something like a cashless society - but not in the way the CBN had planned.” Meanwhile, Nigerians are turning to any crypto besides the eNaira.
Though it may have crippled the entire economy, it was widely observed that it did reduce vote-buying, at a preposterous cost.
The Candidates: A Country for Old Men
Though Nigeria is one of the most youthful countries on Earth, it cannot move past elderly politicians. The four top candidates in the election had an average age of 68.25, while outgoing President Buhari is 80. Two of the Fourth Republic Presidents had been President decades earlier; Nigeria appears to be similar to the US in that one group of incompetent Boomers have formed the country’s political elite since well before they were elderly and refuse to give way to a younger generation. The three main candidates in this election were Peter Obi of the Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, and the claimed winner, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress. It’s notable that all three of those are ostensibly left wing party names. I don’t believe Africa has much of a civilian right wing in the sense America or Europe would understand it. The continent as a whole, and the country of Nigeria, are very socially conservative, especially in the Muslim north. Tinubu was one of the founders of the All Progressives Congress in 2013, which was the result of a merger of opposition parties. The party took power in 2015 from the People’s Democratic Party. All three other main candidates in the race [a man named Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian People’s Party got 7%] were once in the People’s Democratic Party, meaning if it stayed unified it would have received around 60% of the vote.
The third place candidate, Peter Obi, is a former governor and Vice Presidential candidate, having ran with his 2023 opponent, Abubakar, in 2019. He is a Christian from the country’s southeast, and of the Igbo tribe, the country’s third largest ethnicity. He split with the PDP days before its primary to run as a Labour Party candidate. Obi, a relative youth at age 61, is the only candidate to have been born after Nigeria’s independence. He is a millionaire known for his modest lifestyle, though he was exposed as having illegal offshore accounts in the Pandora Papers release. Obi is seen as an outsider candidate and has a devoted following among young and urban voters, as well as being popular on social media. They call themselves “Obi-dients,” which is truly the most awful and cringe-inducing name for any political faction I’ve ever heard. I’m not sure I understand his social media appeal, as he posted this on Twitter, then proceeded to make several more posts in a row using the graphic:
The implication is clearly that Tinubu should want to have won through a better election, though that is a painful forced pun. Obi’s positions include increasing military funding, diversifying the economy to reduce reliance on oil, renegotiating national debt, and “enabling the private sector to thrive” [which presumably means liberalization.]
The second place candidate was the one who stuck with the People’s Democratic Party, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Abubakar is 76 years old, and it is his sixth time running for President. He is a multimillionaire, and a northern Muslim from the Fulani ethnic group. Abubakar reportedly has four wives and 28 children [some of the information is contradictory, he went through a divorce recently but it appears that wife was replaced.] His wealth comes from the company Intels which he co-founded in 1982. Intels is an international oilfield logistics company which employs over 10,000 people. He was the Vice President from 1999-2007 and in that time oversaw market-based economic reforms. He faces many accusations of corruption spanning decades. Though he has never been in court, the corruption accusations are bad enough there was speculation he was avoiding international travel because he feared prosecution by the United States related to a massive transfer to his American wife’s bank account. This speculation was put to rest when he visited Washington DC in 2019.
Abubakar has tried to portray himself as a break from the country’s political class despite that he is a founding member of the country’s current political class. However, he had going for him a lifetime of networking, the support of a major political party, and a generally good reputation from the era of his Vice Presidency having been “good times” in the country. Abubakar’s main platform was liberalization of the economy and the currency, and increasing the police force to battle Islamic insurgents and criminal gangs. He is a fierce opponent of Boko Haram, crediting his success with the Western style education he received, and he wrote in his autobiography that his father was briefly jailed for preventing him from attending school.
The declared winner of the election is Bola Tinubu, who appears to be the country’s Joe Biden. Tinubu is a multimillionaire and ethnic Yoruba Muslim from the country’s southwest. He holds several chieftancies in southwest Nigeria [I don’t know a lot about Nigeria’s legally-recognized chieftancy system, but you can read about it on Wikipedia.] Tinubu has been in politics for decades, and is a former Lagos governor who is considered the “political godfather” of Lagos state. He has been mostly behind the scenes in federal politics, but this time is reputed to have literally said “it’s my turn,” which is of course the only argument there ever was for Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. He was considered to be dead in the water as a political entity, but was able to exert his influence into a landslide victory at the party’s convention. Tinubu’s background is made up of conflicting reports including what could be a lie or a mistake about his education, with a form some years back saying he went to the prestigious University of Chicago when he attended Chicago State University. The Nigerian Tribune published a piece about Tinubu’s unclear background, which tells an interesting story. It explains that it is common for older Nigerians to not have birth certificates, but in Tinubu’s case he was said to be disowned by his family, adopted by unknown people, and it is even alleged he doesn’t speak Yoruba with a Lagos accent. All very strange. Further, Tinubu has been accused of corruption for decades, including US Justice Department documents linking him to heroin trafficking and a cartel operating in Chicago between 1988 and 1993. He is considered to be one of Nigeria’s wealthiest politicians, and France 24 reports that “the source of his wealth is unknown.”
There are many concerns about Tinubu’s health and mental clarity. Reuters reports, “The 70-year-old has, however, sometimes appeared frail in public, slurring his speech and answering questions with platitudes, and skipping several campaign events, leaving some to doubt how effective he would be.” France 24 was even more harsh, saying critics in the PDP said he was, “wobbly, wonky and narcotic-devastated.” He didn’t challenge anyone to push-ups like Joe Biden, but he did release a video of himself exercising on a bike in an attempt to demonstrate his fitness. One thing which greatly differs Tinubu and Biden is that it is widely considered that Tinubu was highly competent in his prime, whereas Joe Biden always had a reputation for being dull-witted. His leadership style is described as dictatorial and undemocratic, and Lagos University political science lecturer Dapo Thomas stated, “Tinubu has a very aggressive, very solid political machine.” Tinubu doesn’t appear to have any real political positions besides liberalizing the oil industry, expanding the military to fight the insurgency, and it simply being “his turn.”
The Preparation: Securing Democracy
When Nigeria was preparing to return to civilian rule in 1998, a board called the Independent National Election Commission [INEC] was created to oversee elections. The body has been mired by controversy, and Nigerian elections regularly have problems including vote buying, ballot box stuffing, vote rigging, and voter intimidation. It’s interesting to note that in every Nigerian election all of these accusations exist, and every time it is said that such actions did not change the results. It makes you wonder if the cheating is pointless or if the people who say it is are lying. There seems to be a culture where everyone considers everyone else is cheating and thus they must do the same thing to be competitive. Nigerian elections are commonly challenged in court, but so far so far none of these challenges have been successful, at least not to the extent of changing an election. Concerns about disputed results and post-election violence were so serious that the candidates signed a “peace deal” before the elections agreeing to accept results, or at least to use the legal process if they didn’t. All of this has led to persistently low voter turnouts, usually around 35% [it needs to be pointed out that if, like Nigeria, 53% of the American electorate was 35 or younger our turnout would be quite a bit lower than it is now.]
Due to this long history of electoral problems, INEC made great efforts in an attempt to ensure a secure and credible election in 2023. Nigeria already required “Permanent Voter Cards” [PVC] to vote, however, this election they sought to increase security and transparency by also requiring bio-metric identification. The new system is called the “Bimodal Voter Accreditation System” [BVAS] and requires both a voter ID and a matching thumbprint in order to cast a vote. All of this requires electronic voting machines [EVMs.] There are references to the state partnering with many small firms to digitize voting, but I have been unable to find out who manufactures these things, which I find to be suspicious [it is possible, but extremely unlikely, that the government itself manufactures them.] The government created an INEC Result Viewing [IReV] portal, which is designed to report votes in real time and thus create public faith in the credibility of the process.
Despite all of these ostensible improvements and Nigeria’s strong recent history of the peaceful transition of power, the wealthy Western countries spent a lot of time tut-tutting about preserving Nigeria’s democracy in the lead-up to the vote. American First Lady Jill Biden visited Kenya and Namibia in the week before the vote, and said she feels “really comfortable” in Africa, which strikes me as the sort of thing a person would only say if it wasn’t true. Regardless, she blathered about “democracy” and sent a clear message that the Biden administration is interested in what happens on the continent. French President Macron had also announced that he would be traveling to Africa shortly after the election, seeking to turn back the tide of the loss of democracy and French influence. More concerning was what was plastered all over the Op-Ed pages, exemplified by a piece in The Hill, titled, “The World Must not let Violence Derail Nigeria’s Elections.” The piece is written by a man named Santiago Stocker, who is the “program director” for Nigeria at something called the “International Republican Institute.” The IRI is a “core institute” of the “National Endowment for Democracy,” an alleged “non-profit” that receives most of its funding from the US government and is considered by many to be a “second CIA.” The NED is perhaps the most notorious US “soft power” regime change machine, and is accused of interfering with elections all over the world. When an agent for the IRI is openly advocating public sanctions against people within a country’s political process, as Stocker does in his piece for The Hill, there should be extreme concern about the fairness of your vote: no one rigs an election like the Americans.
On the sillier and less nefarious side, for some inexplicable clown world reason, notorious election-denier Stacey Abrams was sent to Nigeria as an “international observer.”
In a true “new frontiers in shamelessness” moment, she says “What we’ve tried to have a conversation about, is that not every election turns out the way you want.” Right, Stacey. She also has a history of calling any effort to secure elections “racist,” most of all requiring in-person voting, but she has also said this about Voter IDs in the past, though her position has “evolved.” Someone should ask her how it is that Nigerians, who have an average income of around 1/12 that of African-Americans in Stacey’s home state of Georgia, and where only 61% of kids 6-11 regularly attend school, compared to 31% of black Georgians having college degrees, are able to figure out showing up to vote on election day if such requirements unfairly target black people. There’s no good reason why Abrams should have been monitoring Nigeria’s election, though one should never discount the possibility that the ruling class is trolling us to demonstrate our powerlessness. This take seems more likely:
Results: A Vote of No Confidence
When Nigerians went to the polls on Saturday, February 25th, it went relatively smoothly. There were isolated reports of violence, but the long time problem of vote-buying was primarily ended due to the absence of cash in the country. The BVAS makes it functionally impossible to vote fraudulently or double vote. However, they ran into a problem that the previous elections in the United States should have prepared them to expect: the IReV system suffered from massive reporting delays which destroyed confidence in the results. From the point at which the votes started to be collated it turned into a disaster. INEC insists it is not possible to tamper with the results, however, they were not able to sell the politicians that the numbers showed to be losing on the claim that the numbers were honest. Further, due to what they say are technical errors, INEC was unable to meet their own reporting guidelines, most importantly the requirement that results be first uploaded to a central IReV server before the collation and announcement of results. Opposition parties quickly called for votes to be annulled in several parts of the country. Former President Obosanjo, an Obi supporter, also alleged fraud. The Kenyan publication The East African quotes him as saying,
“It is no secret that INEC officials, at operational level, have been allegedly compromised to make what should have worked not to work and to revert to manual transmission of results which is manipulated and the results doctored. The INEC chairman may claim ignorance, but he cannot fold his hands and do nothing when he knows that election process has been corrupted and most of the results that are brought outside BVAS and servers are not a true reflection of the will of Nigerians who have made their individual choice.”
It goes on to quote Labour Party official Akin Osuntokun as saying,
“We hereby call on INEC to suspend further results announcements and follow its own guidelines or completely cancel the entire election and make plans for another election with strict compliance with the stipulated laws and guidelines.”
With Tinubu only getting around 37% of the vote he is in a weak position to claim legitimacy. At the same time, with both Abubakar and Obi claiming they won, the claims kind of invalidate each other and make it seem perhaps more reasonable that Tinubu simply did win because of split opposition.
On Wednesday morning INEC declared Tinubu the winner, ruling that he had met the standard where a candidate who does not have a majority must get at least 25% in at least 24 states. While in a way this does look like sore losers looking for something nefarious behind a system breaking down in a famously dysfunction country, the London-based Financial Times Editorial Board described the election as “badly flawed at best.” They further stated,
“The INEC badly misfired. Voting started late in many districts, depriving millions of the right to vote. The system to upload results from 177,000 polling stations stuttered, causing legitimate concerns of vote tampering during long delays. Violence was troubling. Party goons invaded many polling stations in what appeared to be blatant acts of intimidation. The Financial Times witnessed armed men remove a presidential ballot box in Surulere, Lagos.”
Financial Times also makes the observation, “the emergence of Obi as a viable third-party candidate had brought excitement and forced candidates to talk about policies, if only a little.” This is in keeping with what I noticed researching for this article: this race was incredibly light on policy even with three candidates. It’s incredible there would usually be less policy discussion. For the most part they all support increasing spending on security and liberalizing the economy in various ways. The feel I get is that Tinubu is just a corrupt warm body, Abubakar is relatively less complacent, and Obi is relatively more competent and less corrupt. If this was an unusually issues-based campaign, their politics have clearly been mostly an identity-based spoils system, even though there has been an informal system for avoiding that sort of sectarianism in this most diverse nation.
Some of the problems of this election are standard for Nigeria, but creating a system that is meant to show the public the votes as they are counted, and then it drastically failing, could lead any reasonable person to suspect vote-tampering. An uncited Wikipedia edit, which would constitute “vandalism” under the site’s policies, shows the frustration of an Obi supporter:
Meanwhile, Financial Times describes current President Buhari as having staked his reputation on a clean election. Buhari says of the candidates challenging the results, “see you in court.” Obi believes he can win in court, or at least says he does; Abubakar does not believe he can win in court, but intends to go there anyway on the grounds that he is the real election winner. Thus far, there seems to be relative calm both inside and outside of Nigeria. Election challenges are usual and an accepted part of the process there. However, in the Fourth Republic they’ve never had a strong third party candidate, or a President win with such weak numbers. The totality of circumstances generates a lot of suspicion, especially given the winner is a key component of the political machine currently in power, happens to be the one with alleged ties to American organized crime, and appears willing to be complacent to outside powers [and appears entirely compromised by the United States.] Nigeria’s two most powerful outside influences, the United Kingdom and the United States, both accepted that there were reasons to challenge the election and called for it to be settled peacefully. This is especially ironic coming from the Biden Administration, as when it’s America there is a entire media machine dedicated to gaslighting us into believing reporting delays are no reason to question a vote’s integrity. Regardless, all of the interested outside powers clearly want Tinubu accepted as President and have congratulated him; there is no way to know if they prefer him for any reason specific to him, or simply fear the further destabilization of Nigeria. Either way, it seems most likely Tinubu will be the President, and he will start from a most disadvantaged position in a country with many problems.
Conclusion: Easy to Recognize, Difficult to Correct
In Discourses on Livy Machiavelli wrote,
“As for changing these institutions all at once, when everyone realizes they are no longer good, let me say that this ineffectiveness, though easily recognized, is difficult to correct, because to do so ordinary practices are no longer sufficient, once ordinary methods have become wicked, and it is necessary to turn to extraordinary methods.” [I.18]
He goes onto explain that the only hope to correct such problems is to violently take control and become the Prince. However there is a paradox in that only a wicked man becomes Prince in such a way, while only a good man can fix a city. Further, in a different section Machiavelli says that a people unaccustomed to freedom who become free can only maintain freedom with the greatest difficulty. Nigeria has both the problem of corrupt institutions and is still becoming accustomed to freedom. Thus, the prognosis for fixing Nigeria is dim.
It would be a shocking turn of events if a Tinubu Administration fixed any of Nigeria’s major problems. Even for a talented and energetic leader, there would be no easy solutions for Africa’s most populous country and for the maintenance harmony between its diverse regions. However, at the same time, the dissolution of Nigeria would be a geopolitical and humanitarian disaster for Nigeria, Africa, and the world as a whole. As I see it now, their best solution is to simply continue to endure while they wait for the corrupt gerontocracy they have languished under to die off, and to hope that the enormous younger generation can come together to put the country on a new and better course. Unfortunately there is a great risk of Nigeria’s problems coming to a head before then, and youth the world over are short on patience, which is surely also true of Nigeria. If the country can survive Tinubu, we can only hope age alone will make him the last Nigerian President of his generation, and that young men can correct the mistakes of their fathers.
CLARIFICATION 3/6/23: This video from Reuters made me realize I did not fully understand Nigeria’s complex voting and voter-verification system:
I was of the impression [in part due to a picture I saw while researching] that Nigerians voted on a digital touch screen. Further, I believed that voters brought a voter card and also provided a thumbprint, and that was the meaning of “Bimodal,” the card and the print being two forms of identiciation. In reality, voter cards contain a finger print which is read by a machine while the finger print is scanned, and the voter must have his or her face verified with facial recognition technology. From here, the voter is issued a paper ballot and ink; a ballot is filled out by putting your finger print in the box. The ballot is then scanned and uploaded, and voters can check that their vote has been recorded through the IReV portal. The complexity of this system has made the media reporting on it confusing. While it theoretically makes tampering or hacking difficult, the complexity opens up enormous possibilities for human or machine error. It is no wonder there would be delays in voting, doing all of this for each person.
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