Midterm Challenges in Nigeria

Elections, Parties, and Regional Conflict

May 13, 2013
John Paden

At the midpoint between presidential elections in Nigeria, the country’s leaders need to take stock of the conflict resolution mechanisms in place to deal with the political divide between north and south, Muslim and Christian, and to prevent electoral violence in 2015. Depending on how it contributes to regional balance, power sharing, and perceptions of fair play, the coming phase of party coalition building may well determine future national stability.


  • Nigeria is by far the largest country in the world with a population evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. The political party system, as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, requires that a presidential candidate achieve not only a plurality of votes but also at least 25 percent of the votes in two-thirds of the thirty-six states.
  • Given Nigeria’s great ethnoreligious diversity, creating “national unity” in Nigeria is a challenge, especially between its “Muslim north” and “Christian south.” The aftermath of the last national elections in 2011 witnessed extreme violence in the country ‘s north.
  • With the next round of national elections scheduled for 2015, the positioning of political parties is in full swing, and grassroots pressures are growing in the far north, including from extremist religious elements that became emboldened in 2011.
  • A new political party has been formed in opposition to the dominant party. The opposition All Progressive Congress is national in scope and ties together all six of the country ‘s zones. It selfidentifies as “progressive.”
  • One of the main political questions is whether President Goodluck Jonathan will run again. The northern wing of the dominant Peoples Democratic Party is considering selecting a northern candidate to run in 2015. The south-south faction of the party, led by President Jonathan, is trying to counter this move.
  • The country ‘s major political issues have strong regional implications, especially with regard to the activities of Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram and security issues in the north and violence in the Niger Delta in the south-south.
  • The country ‘s political dynamics also affect questions of sustainable development and regional economic disparities. Education and jobs are urgently needed in the north, which is being left behind from a development standpoint. Further political and ethnoreligious violence may make it even more difficult to initiate development reforms there.
  • At this midpoint between presidential elections, it is imperative to take stock of whether conflict resolution mechanisms are in place in the country as a whole and within the two evolving major political parties. Political coalitions are crucial, but how they are designed and implemented may determine whether there is stability or instability in the country.
  • The next phase of party coalition building may determine the stability of the national system, in terms of regional balance, power sharing, and perceptions of fair play. Thus, real efforts should be directed towards the growing disjunction between the political elites and the grassroots communities they are intended to represent.

About the Report

Echoes of the 2011 national elections in Nigeria, when extreme violence rocked the north of the country, remain strong in the lead-up to the country ‘s scheduled 2015 elections. This report, sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, assesses the emerging political party system at this midpoint and searches for lessons from the country ‘s historic pattern of election-related conflict. The author is grateful to both the U.S. Institute of Peace, which has a long-term concern with conflict analysis and resolution in Africa, and the George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, which has a commitment to working with Nigerian counterparts on issues of conflict mitigation.

About the Author

John Paden is Clarence Robinson Professor of International Studies at George Mason University. He has served as professor of public administration at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and founding dean at Bayero University, Kano. He was an international election observer in Nigeria in 1999 (Kaduna), 2003 (Kano), and 2007 (Katsina).

May 13, 2013