Even though President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are congratulating themselves on their victory in both the presidential, legislative and governorship elections held in April, the elections results give some cause for concern.
President Jonathan was able to obtain a simple majority (57 to 31 per cent) over his nearest rival, the former military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari. Jonathan also scored enough votes in Nigeria’s 36 states to enable him scale the tricky mathematical provision which obliges the winning presidential candidate to win 25 per cent of the votes in two-thirds of the states. (In 1979, a hugely controversial court case arose over the mathematical requirement, which was then to get the sum of ‘2/3 of 19 states’.)
So this year, President Jonathan was not forced to go into a bitter second round, as it had been feared he might have to do.
Equally important, many of the international observers who watched the election declared it ‘free and fair’. In the light of the body blow delivered to the election process, by a one-week postponement, decreed at the last minute by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) – because it was unable to provide all the printed material needed for the election – the judgement of the international observers was quite helpful in setting Nigerians’ minds at rest.
But alas, President Jonathan’s main opponent, General Buhari, thought otherwise and declared that he believed the election had been rigged. This was enough to serve as a signal for some of his followers, especially young unemployed people, to engage in acts of brutal violence. At least 500 people were reported killed in northern Nigeria, where Buhari obtained his greatest support. Many others were injured. Internally displaced persons were estimated to number about 70,000.
The violence was particularly ferocious in Kaduna and Bauchi states, where it took on the depressingly familiar forms of Muslim versus Christian and northerner versus southerner internecine bloodletting.
But worrying as this was, even more ominous were signs that the notorious Boko Haram sect, whose attacks on Christians claimed the lives of 700 people in July 2009, was taking advantage of the post-election mayhem to renew its campaign of wantonly slaughtering people in the cause of religion. (‘Boko Haram’ means, more or less, ‘Western education and lifestyle must be eschewed.’)
Two explosions which killed three people in Maiduguri, Borno state, on 24 April 2011, were attributed by the police to Boko Haram.
After the explosions, a statement from Boko Haram itself was received by some media houses, which warned that Boko Haram would ‘never accept any system of governance, apart from the one described by Islam, because that is the only way Muslims can be liberated’.
Boko Haram also said: ‘We are calling on Muslims all over the world, and precisely those in Nigeria, to understand that we need fairness from everybody, especially in the areas of explaining our mission, because God has commanded us in the Holy Quran to be just.
‘We want to reiterate that we are warriors who are carrying out Jihad [Holy War] in Nigeria, and our cause is based on the traditions of the Holy Prophet. We would never believe in any system of government apart from the one agreed by Islam, because we believe that it is the only way that can liberate the Muslims.
‘We do not believe in any system of government, be it traditional or orthodox. That is why we are fighting against democracy, capitalism, socialism and the rest.
‘We would not allow the Nigerian Constitution to replace the provisions of the Holy Quran; we would not allow adulterated conventional education (Boko) to replace Islamic teachings.’
Boko Haram added: ‘We do not respect the Nigerian government, because it is illegal. We will continue to fight its military and police because they are not protecting Islam.’
‘We will never accept any system of governance apart from the one described by Islam because that is the only way Muslims can be liberated,’ Boko Haram said. ‘We do not respect the Nigerian government because it is illegal. We will continue to fight its military and police because they are not protecting Islam,’ the sect concluded.
It looks, therefore, as if the Nigerian government will have to decide pretty soon whether it will attack Boko Haram on an ad hoc basis – when Boko Haram causes public harm – or go for the sect’s jugular and attempt to uproot it before its declared disrespect for the Nigerian constitution spreads and infects other disgruntled groups. There are quite a few unemployed youths – including university graduates –whose frustration could drive them into desperate actions, such as are embarked upon every now and then, by Boko Haram.
Yet if it seriously goes after Boko Haram, the Nigerian government may find itself being accused of infringing provisions of the very constitution Boko Haram says it does not respect – and thus give respectability to Boko Haram's campaign of violence.
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* Cameron Duodu is a writer and commentator.
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