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  March 27, 2015

Nigerians Head to the Polls Amid Rising Tensions

With several court challenges in the works, the elections are highly contested and posses a threat to the PDP rule, says Associate Professor Zachariah Mampilly of Vassar College
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Zachariah Mampilly is the Director of the Africana Studies Program and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Vassar College. He is the author of Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life during War and Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

The Nigerian elections will be taking place this Sunday March 28th. They were originally scheduled for last month, but the election commission postponed them because of the destabilization due to Boko Haram insurgency in the northeastern part of the country.

But they also say that it is because the voter ID cards had been not been fully distributed to the millions that need the card to be able to vote. The incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, of the People's Democratic Party, PDP, the party that has dominated Nigerian politics since democracy was established in 1999. Jonathan will be seeking a second term, and that will be his final term, and his running mate is Namadi Sambo. His main contender, from the All Progressives Congress, APC, is Muhammadu Buhari, along with his running mate, Yemi Osinbajo.

Now joining me to discuss the elections and the largest economy in Africa is Zachariah Mampilly. He is an assistant professor of political science at Vassar College, and a Fulbright visiting faculty member at the University of Dar es Salaam. Thank you so much for joining me today.


PERIES: So let's unpack who the parties are, who is running, what are the lead contending parties, and perhaps their position on Boko Haram.

MAMPILLY: Sure. So the ruling party, of course, is the PDP of Goodluck Jonathan, which has been the ruling party in Nigeria for the past 15 years, since the transition to democracy took place in 1999. And the main contender, as you said, the former general Buhari, who is part of a new party called the APC, or All Progressives Congress, which is a very interesting party in the sense that it is – it's primarily established as a party of rivals, comprised of many defectors from the PDP.

Buhari himself, of course, is a former leader of Nigeria. He was a military ruler in that country. But he has gone through what he suggests is a democratic transformation, and he renounces his former autocratic past, and has tried to run in this election very much as someone who has embraced democracy.

PERIES: Now, apparently one of the reasons that the elections were postponed from last month to Sunday was because the voter ID cards had not been fully distributed; millions of people had not received them. But there's some issues already in terms of the voter ID cards, and the constitutionality of using electronic cards to ID people. Apparently it is not allowed, as yet, in terms of the electoral process in Nigeria. What more do you know about that?

MAMPILLY: Well, I think that the key thing to understand is that this is going to be a highly contested election. Unlike all the previous elections that have happened since 1999, this is the one that is truly competitive, and actually poses a threat to the PDP's rule. So we do expect that there will be litigations on all sides, regardless of what the outcome is. And so we can see both sides, now, gearing up a number of different challenges, including voter ID and other aspects of the registration process.

PERIES: And also apparently the presence of the military at the polling stations is also considered problematic. On one hand, the security is required, because there could be potential attacks in polling stations. And then on the other hand, the security is seen as a way in which the ruling party might be flexing its muscle, since the security forces are seen as a part and parcel of government at this point.

MAMPILLY: I think that's correct. You know, if you look back at the protest movement that happened in early 2012, the so-called Occupy Nigeria protest, this regime has always been willing to put military forces onto the streets in the name of security. And I think very much as they did in 2012, we're seeing them deploy the military. Largely in the name of protection, but certainly as an intimidation factor, as well.

PERIES: And I guess what's on everyone's mind is how Boko Haram and people associated with Boko Haram is going to react to these elections. Do we have any indication of that?

MAMPILLY: It's very difficult to know what Boko Haram is planning. Certainly they have taken steps that seem as they are gearing up for some sort of actions in the current elections, but it's hard to say whether they are going to target their actions around the election specifically, or if they're just going to continue with the long-running insurgency in that country.

I think what's important is the ways in which Boko Haram is manipulated by a variety of political elites in the country, and that the insurgency has long had very disturbing ties to a number of political figures, especially in the north of the country.

PERIES: And from all of the judicial warfare that's going on in terms of the legitimacy of the elections, you know, both party candidates, leading party candidates are being challenged at this moment in terms of their qualifications to run for president. Is this sort of a stage for what might come as a result of the results of the election?

MAMPILLY: Yeah, it's fair to assume that this election may not be over after all the votes are in. We expect that there will be a number of litigations going back and forth. Also, Nigeria's election has a fairly distinct process due to the federal nature of the country. Not only does a candidate have to win a majority of votes, they also have to win a certain percentage of votes in each of the states of the country. So we can expect that there will be many levels of challenges levied against either side, regardless of who comes out as the victor.

PERIES: Now, we also will be following this election over the weekend at The Real News, but do you have any sense of what the current polls are predicting in terms of the victory?

MAMPILLY: The polls are coming back extremely close. I do think what's interesting is that many in Nigeria, even though they have serious doubts about Buhari and his supposed transformation into a democratic figure, are suggesting that people should vote for Buhari simply as a rebuke to the current administration, which most, most Nigerians view as highly inept and incapable of dealing with the severe structural problems.

The unfortunate thing is that nobody really expects that Buhari has a clear plan to improve the conditions in Nigeria either, but they, there's a sense that this could be a protest vote, and that the way we should interpret it is not as support for Buhari but as a rejection of the incumbent.

PERIES: Zachariah Mampilly, assistant professor of political science at Vassar College, thank you so much for joining us.

MAMPILLY: Thank you for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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