The 2019 elections are rearing up in Nigeria, and amid them are democratic gains tainted by massive corruption. Presidential elections are set for February 16, while governors and House of Assembly will be elected on March second. Nigeria is Africa’s largest democracy, since its reinstatement of democratic rule in 1999 after years of military rule. While there are over 70 candidates for the office of president, the main two contenders are incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the All-Progressive Congress party and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the formerly ruling People’s Democratic Party. Key aspects of the election will be a response to corruption, an economic plan to begin seeing results of natural resource wealth throughout Nigeria, and a strategy to deal with Boko Haram. While the election could be a turning point for Nigeria, so far political discourse surrounding the election has been without violence, demonstrating the country’s large democratic gains.
Despite Buhari’s presidency since beating Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, his strides to actively combat corruption have been questioned by Nigerians, as Salaudeen Hashim, working for Transparency International to fight corruption in Nigeria, expresses in an interview with Al Jazeera. In defending the president, his spokesperson, Garba Shehu claims that anti-corruption programs take time and the cooperation of the legislative, not just the president’s will. Economist Feyi Fawehinmi tells Al Jazeera that Buhari’s “[handling] of the economy has been somewhere between terrible and poor. After inheriting a bad situation on account of falling oil prices and general despair on corruption under the previous government, he has undoubtedly made it worse.” While Abubakar has published an economic plan and has high goals of encouraging economic growth, it is unknown whether either candidate will be successful in combatting the longstanding corruption problem. Buhari hopes his last years as president will encourage the people to again vote him into office.
Despite both candidate’s confidence in their abilities to combat corruption and bring economic growth to the country, Hashim highlights that strategies to fight corruption should not be held only by programs with a strong leader, but through a government able to institutionalize the fight against corruption. In this thinking, the March elections will be essential in pairing well with the presidential elections to avoid gridlock. With both an executive and legislative on the same page about corruption, true strides can finally be made. Anthony Goldman, former Senior Africa Analyst says that rather than always going after corrupt individuals, the general perception of Nigerian public administration needs to be changed, “it’s the system itself that’s broken” not just individuals (Al Jazeera). Goldman suggests creating a system of appointments and promotion in the public administration based on merit to avoid bribery.
Despite the apparent peace of the upcoming election and campaigning process, the gravity of corruption runs deep in Nigeria and violence is still feared by many. Two-thirds of the population is without access to safe water, half the population doesn’t have electricity despite billions of dollars devoted to power supply, and Nigeria recently outranked India as the country with the largest levels of poverty with nearly 87 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty (Al Jazeera). Hashim adds that there is a direct correlation to the struggle to fight Boko Haram and government corruption, and claims that “corruption has, over the years, fueled violent extremism.” Regardless of the results of the election, Nigerians need to begin seeing economic gains and reaping the benefits of their rich land.