Post-Election Violence Erupts in Nigeria

April 2011 | On the Issues by David R. Smock

April 19, 2011

USIP’s David Smock discusses the recent presidential election in Nigeria and the challenges ahead for the African nation.

What are the results of Nigeria’s presidential election, and why were they significant?

In the presidential election which took place over this past weekend, President Goodluck Jonathan was reelected by a large margin. In sharp contrast to past Nigerian elections, this election was declared to be largely free and fair by both Nigerian and international observers. This is a remarkable step toward giving democratic processes real roots in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the declaration that Jonathan was the clear winner set off significant violence in several northern cities.

What set off the post-election violence?

Young supporters of the runner-up, former President Muhammadu Buhari, claim that the elections were rigged and that Jonathan was not the true winner. A more deep-seated provocation is the established pattern in Nigeria that the presidency should rotate between a Christian and a Muslim. Jonathan’s predecessor, a Muslim, died while in office and did not complete a full term. Many Muslims from the North argue that a Muslim should have been elected in this election because the Muslims did not get their deserved opportunity to have a Muslim president for a full term.

Given that this election is reported as the country’s fairest ever, what does this suggest about the country’s prospects for a stable future?

The post-election violence is very worrisome and Muslim resentment over the election outcome could linger and be a source of instability. Northern leaders, and most importantly Buhari, need to accept the election results and call for an end to the violence. The fact that the election was free and fair will hopefully convince Nigerians that the outcome should be honored.

What are some long and short-term challenges?

Can the international community help? The over-arching long-term challenge is to achieve greater reconciliation between Muslims and Christians, which also reflects a division between the North and the South. High levels of poverty and unemployment, particularly among youth in the North, must also be addressed since it is this segment of the population that has instigated most of the violence. These challenges are mostly for Nigeria’s leadership to address, but USIP and other international actors can be supportive. USIP has been particularly focused on aiding inter-faith reconciliation. Another significant challenge that President Jonathan is well positioned to address, since he comes from that area, is the discontent of the people in the Niger Delta. Most of Nigeria’s oil comes from the Niger Delta, but that region is particularly undeveloped.