Nigeria's Election: Mediocrity With A Chance of Mayhem

Four years ago, Nigeria made history. The 2015 presidential election marked the first time that a Nigerian president lost an election, accepted defeat, and passed power to the opposition. Given that Nigeria is the most populous country and largest economy in Africa, that was good news for the entire region.


Well, tomorrow voters will return to the polls to decide whether to grant a second term to current President Muhammadu Buhari, or to demand he hand over power to his opponent, the business tycoon Atiku Abubakar. The choice is decidedly underwhelming.

Mr. Buhari's record over the past four years has been mixed. The oil-dependent economy is only barely emerging from a deep recession, and the unemployment rate has doubled to more than 23 percent since he took office. Some 84 percent of Nigerians think the government is corrupt. The security situation remains dicey: although Mr. Buhari had early success against the Islamic militants of Boko Haram, the group has been on a fresh tear lately. Meanwhile, violence between farming and herding communities – often with a Christian vs Muslim overlay – has surged in recent years.

What's more, persistent rumors about Buhari's poor health have reinforced the sense that the country is run by a leader without sufficient vision or energy. It's never good when your president has to deny publicly that he has died and been replaced with a body double or clone.

But the alternative to Mr. Buhari inspires little enthusiasm. Mr. Abubakar is a former customs boss who has built a vast corporate conglomerate and used his fortune to curry political support. He says he wants to use privatizations as a way to spark economic growth – a critical challenge given that roughly half of Nigeria's 190 million people live in extreme poverty – but critics worry that he just wants to enrich his cronies by handing them lucrative state assets.

The vote is expected to be very close. On balance, Mr. Buhari probably has an edge – he enjoys the natural advantages of being an incumbent, and there has been some turbulence within Mr. Abubakar's campaign and party machine down the homestretch. But this election is still very much up for grabs.

The wildcard scenario: Mr. Abubakar has warned that the military might interfere with voting to help Buhari win, and there are lingering concerns about the potential for vote rigging. If the election result is inconclusive, or at least close enough that one side refuses to accept defeat, there is some risk of violence.

The bottom line: Just four years after a peaceful and orderly transfer of power that was a model for the region, Nigeria is in a tough spot: a reasonably smooth election would grant power to one of two deeply uninspiring leaders, while a contested ballot could deal a deep blow to democracy in Africa's largest country.

It was inevitable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would make India's elections a referendum on Narendra Modi, and now that the vast majority of 600 million votes cast have been counted, it's clear he made the right call.

More Show less

Among the 23 men and women now seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to take on Donald Trump in next year's election, the frontrunner, at least for now, has spent half a century in politics. Former Vice President Joe Biden, first elected to the US Senate in 1972, is the very epitome of the American political establishment.

Yet, the dominant political trend in many democracies today is public rejection of traditional candidates and parties of the center-right and center-left in favor of new movements, voices, and messages. Consider the evidence from some recent elections:

More Show less

It's Friday, and Signal readers deserve at least one entirely upbeat news story.

José Obdulio Gaviria, a Colombian senator for the rightwing Democratic Center party, is an outspoken opponent of government attempts to make peace with the FARC rebel group after 50 years of conflict.

On his way into a meeting earlier this week, Gaviria collapsed. It was later reported that he had fainted as a result of low blood pressure probably caused by complications following recent open heart surgery.

A political rival, Senator Julian Gallo, quickly came to his rescue and revived him using resuscitation skills he learned as—irony alert—a FARC guerrilla. CPR applied by Gallo helped Gaviria regain consciousness, before another senator, who is also professional doctor, took over. Gaviria was taken to hospital and appears to have recovered.

Because some things will always be more important than politics.