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Nigerians embrace APC

Philipp Sandner / cmApril 13, 2015

Nigeria has voted for change. Gubernatorial elections point to another victory for the opposition. Observers say the elections show how Nigeria’s problems of religion and ethnicity could be overcome.

Image: AFP/Getty Images/P. Utomi Ekpei

The results of Nigeria's regional elections on Saturday (12.04.2015) are another indication of how much confidence voters have lost in Nigeria's outgoing government. In the March 28 election, President Goodluck Jonathan lost to opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari who won by a landslide. Now the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) has been dealt another blow at the ballot box.

President Jonathan's PDP has lost about two thirds of the 36 states to the opposition. According to projections, around 19 of the 29 governors will be representatives of the All Peoples Congress (APC), the party of victorious presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari.

Mohammadu Buhari, Nigeria's president elect greets supporters
Opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari has scored major victories against PDP in the state electionsImage: Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

The PDP has no one but itself to blame, said Tukur Abdulkadir, a political scientist at the University of Abuja, Nigeria's Federal capital. "People have become so disenchanted and disillusioned with the state of affairs in the last five years," Abdulkadir told DW in an interview.

Before the fall in the price of oil, the Nigerian government's oil revenue was substantial. "They have actually not utilized it, rather they have promoted corruption to the highest level,“ Abdulkadir said.

Although there have been convictions and imprisonment on corruption charges, some of the culroits were later pardoned by the government. Some even stood for election.

That helped to destroy the government's crediblity in the eyes of many voters. But the PDP was already in decline. Over a period of one and a half years, many notable politicians, including six governors, defected from the PDP to the APC.

New political direction

One of the more dramatic swings to the APC occurred in Plateau State. The predominantly Christian state was previously considered a PDP stronghold. Victory for the APC was a signal that established voting patterns were changing.

"The election result shows that the ethnic and religious affiliations are no longer important," says Adamu Surku, a political analyst from Plateau. "Whether Muslim or Christian, local or foreigner, the population demonstrated that it is they and not the government which has the last word."

The EU Election Observation Mission believes that a new political climate has engulfed the country. "Nigeria has proven that the voices of citizens are heard and that the government can be held accountable through the ballot box," said Santiago Fisas, head of the mission.

Nigerian voters celebrate upon hearing election results in Lagos.
Many Nigerian voters were simply tired of the ruling eliteImage: AFP/Getty Images/P.U. Ekpei

The poll has also shown that peaceful transition is possible in Nigeria. Some of the governors who lost have openly conceded defeat. A gesture whose importance in Nigeria cannot be overstated, said Heinrich Bergstresser, former head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Nigeria. "The example of Buhari and Jonathan will serve as an example when it actually comes to the hand over of power at the end of May."

More transparency

The new digital voting cards helped to create more transparency and were used for the first time in the presidential election on March 28. With a sophisticated fingerprint-based identification system, the chances of manipulation and voter fraud were greatly reduced, said Bergstresser.

There was one exception, however, in the Niger Delta. The PDP scored approximately 90 percent of the vote in Rivers State.

One should not forget that the Niger Delta - a former civil war zone - had been pacified only on the surface, says Bergstresser. "The culture of violence that has persisted over several decades is still present and any election brings the risk that it could reappear." Fear among the popuation probably prevented APC supporters from going out to vote.

Outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
President Jonathan's decision to swiftly concede defeat to his opponent has been widely praised.Image: T. Charlier/AFP/Getty Images

After its defeat, the PDP could dwindle into insignficance under new leadership. But the future of the APC is also far from secure, Bergstresser believes. Should the two parties survive and prosper, the benefits could be felt well beyond Nigeria's borders.