As Africa’s most populous country with its biggest economy, Nigeria is a bellwether for the continent. On Saturday, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect their next president and members of the National Assembly. This critical election will be a test of the resilience of Nigeria’s democratic institutions and widely watched by the international community, says USIP’s Oge Onubogu.

On Peace is a weekly podcast sponsored by USIP and Sirius XM POTUS Ch. 124. Each week, USIP experts tackle the latest foreign policy issues from around the world.


Tim: This weekend in Nigeria, as we shift to the international, Nigeria holds elections this weekend. Why should you care? What do you need to know? We need to turn to an expert about that, and that's what we're doing. Oge Onubogu, who is the USIP, United States Institute of Peace, senior program officer for Africa Programs is joining us here on POTUS. The Twitter handle is @USIP or @OgeOnubogu.

Tim: Oge Onubogu, thank you for joining us on POTUS today.

Oge Onubogu: Thank you for having me.

Tim: The elections in Nigeria, let's talk about it. It is Africa's largest democracy. Is there a challenge to the way that this is playing out? Are there concerns about the legitimacy of this election? Give us some more information that we need.

Oge Onubogu: Again, thank you, again, for having me this morning.

Oge Onubogu: So the elections in Nigeria over this weekend are very, very important, and what happens in Nigeria definitely matters to the United States and the international community. These elections in Nigeria are coming 20 years after the restoration of multi-party democracy in the country, and ironically, these elections are actually coming ... These two decades would be the longest stretch of uninterrupted governance in Nigeria since the military era, and the elections are also coming after this country's first ever peaceful transition of power to an opposition candidate is being served from the elections that happened in 2015.

Oge Onubogu: So these are very, very important, and definitely what happens here matters to us here in the United States and the international community. Nigeria has one of the youngest populations in the world. It's about 54% of Nigerians that are below the age of 20. This is a very young population when compared to the global average of about 34% under the age of 20. And the country's also on track to reach a population of over four hundred million people by 2050, so passing the population of the United States.

Oge Onubogu: So as you rightfully pointed, it's one of the largest. It's the largest economy on the continent, and also the largest democracy, and is a committed US ally as well, so it's really important for us to pay attention to these elections.

Tim: How much might this election be considered a bellwether in that it might say this is a lesson to be learned? It could be an example for other countries in Africa. Is that a part of what we're watching play out?

Oge Onubogu: Definitely, because the elections in 2015 basically raised citizens' expectations. It definitely set a standard, and as we usually say sometimes, what happens in Nigeria, the way Nigeria goes, the way the rest of the continent goes. Nigeria is such a dominant figure, a dominant country on the continent and also in the region, so it's really important for us to pay attention to these elections, more for the population size of the country, for the economic size and the economic strength of Nigeria. So these are very important factors that are playing into these elections as we see them play out over this weekend because Nigeria definitely sets a standard and sets a tone for the way things go on the continent.

Tim: Again, Oge Onubogu, who is USIP senior program officer for Africa Programs about the Nigeria elections this weekend. Who are the players and who would the United States prefer, if anyone, to be in charge at the end of the election? Who would the US put its chips on, if you will, to be the winner?

Oge Onubogu: The US doesn't have a preferred candidate in these elections. I think what is really important for us to note here is that Nigeria has made major strides in its democratic development, and it's important for us to continue to support the country's democratic development, and also think long term because at the end of the day, regardless of whoever emerges as president from these elections, there are still serious challenges that the country will have to contend with. So at the end of the day, we should continue supporting Nigeria's democratic progress, looking at the long term issues and the long term challenges that whoever emerges as president will have to contend with.

Tim: So after the election takes place, how do we assess the success or lack thereof of the election? Is it about the peacefulness? Is it about the legitimacy? And who is going to be in charge of making sure that this goes off if not without a hitch, with as few glitches as possible?

Oge Onubogu: Well, the election management [inaudible 00:04:53] in Nigeria, the INEC, the Independent National Electoral Commission, has made some considerable progress in administering elections in the country since 1999, and obviously these elections over the weekend will test the resilience of Nigeria's democratic institutions, from their electoral commissions to its security agencies to the judiciary, and it's important that all these agencies be able to coordinate effectively towards ensuring a peaceful outcome of the elections at the end of the day for Nigerians.

Tim: One wonders about the major problems. I mean, the economy of Nigeria, as you mentioned ... I think you said by 2050, Nigeria is expected to have 400 million people as a population. What is it that they do? I think it's about 20% agricultural right now. What is the industry that is driving the economy, and what is the expectation or hope for the future?

Oge Onubogu: For now, the economy in Nigeria is still dominated by the petroleum industry, but there, as you rightfully pointed out, there is agriculture as well, and there are also discussions to diversify. There are also forms of diversification of the economy that are happening. There is also a pretty large informed sector as well, and a large youth population, and individuals who are involved in different types of private and informal industries. So I think, you know, following these elections, with the large population size, with Nigeria's growing economy not only on the formal side but on the informal side as well, these are key important things to keep in mind.

Tim: Do you travel to Nigeria?

Oge Onubogu: Yes, I do. I actually just got back from Nigeria last week, and I will be heading out to Nigeria next week to be part of an international election observer mission to observe the state elections.

Tim: I look forward to catching up when you get back. I want to get a sense of what it's like, both the elections as they took place, and the results. And we hope we can have you back on to discuss this with us. It's an under reported issue, but I'm glad we had a chance to have you on today. Thank you so much for being on POTUS.

Oge Onubogu: Thank you, Tim.

Tim: Oge Onubogu, who is the USIP, United States Institute of Peace Senior Program Officer for Africa Programs. The elections this weekend in Nigeria. It's amazing. 375 ... It's going to be 400 million by the year 2050. Amazing. And it'll be the fourth largest by population in the world at that point. She is tweeting, by the way, @USIP or @OgeOnubogu, which is @OgeOnubogu.

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