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Africa's 'Big Brother' Nigeria heads to the polls

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Message James Lessons

"This election will be a bellwether for the entire continent" chirped the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, when discussing the Nigerian March 28 presidential elections. Postponed by 6 weeks from the original February 14 date due to Boko Haram's persistent string of attacks in the northeast, this year's presidential elections will see incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan pitted against former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, in the closest race since the country's return to democracy in 1999.

President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan
(Image by World Economic Forum @flickr)
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By World Economic Forum @flickr

As Africa's largest economy, there is a lot riding on the success of Nigeria's elections both for the future of democracy in the country and the entire region's stability. With threats of a Boko Haram attack at the polls, fears over politically motivated post-election violence, falling oil prices, and widespread corruption, it's high time to examine which of the two main candidates are most suited to guide Nigeria out of crisis.

Is "Goodluck" enough?

With the Nigerian army, backed my a multinational task force, making significant strides taking back Boko Haram strongholds -- their latest feat being the town of Pulka in Borno state -- President Goodluck Jonathan's administration has finally stepped up its game in the crisis. Previously blamed for his inaction in the face of a looming terrorist threat, Boko Haram have been weakened in recent weeks with the military recapturing 11 of the 14 districts previously under the groups control.

Despite his perceived shortcomings in battling Boko Haram from the start, President Jonathan had a wide array of accomplishments while in office, not least his handling of Nigeria's economy. Through his transformation of the agricultural sector, reform of the power and infrastructure industries, Jonathan's administration created an estimated 1.6 million jobs for Nigeria's growing population. What's more, his National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) launched in 2014 aims at "diversifying the economy into sectors such as agro-processing, light manufacturing and petrochemicals", ensuring that Nigeria moves away from its dependency on oil exports and morphs into a manufacturing nation capable of providing for itself.

But while Jonathan's economic policies have been welcomed, with less than a week left until voting day he will have to fight hard to convince the population that he will solve the country's security problems and wipe out corruption, Nigeria's public enemy number two.

The man with the "iron fist"

General Muhammadu Buhari is seen by many in Nigeria as the strong military figure that the country needs to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency and root out graft from government ranks. He previously ruled the country from 1983-1985 after deposing a democratically elected government in a military coup. Buhari's rule was mired with human rights abuses, harsh restrictions on press freedoms and the jailing of opposition figures as he launched his controversial 'war against indiscipline'. Using armed forces to ensure ordinary Nigerians formed civil lines at bus stops and forcing late public servants to do jumping jacks and other brutal physical exercises, Buhari's term was short lived and he was overthrown in a counter-coup in 1985.

Despite claiming to be a reformed democrat and running on an elusive platform of 'Change', Buhari's past casts a long shadow over his true commitment to democratic ideals, and his previous promises to impose Sharia law throughout Nigeria would deepen the country's religious divide.

A bloody election?

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Born and raised in London, I am a student at the University of Exeter studying politics and international relations with a particular focus on the Africa region. My passions include blogging, policy analysis, photography and studying foreign (more...)

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