Author Archives: Erica Poff

Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: The Debates Must Go On

kwara-debate

Just over two weeks ago, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made the shocking (but not entirely surprising) decision to delay the country’s elections by six weeks. Citing ongoing instability caused by Boko Haram in the country’s Northeast and INEC’s own uncertainty about its ability to deliver outstanding voter cards to nearly 40 percent of the country’s 70 million registered voters, the decision to delay has divided opinions.

On one hand, there is doubt that Nigeria’s woefully inept security forces could provide the kind of protection voters need, and the potential disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters due to violence would not bode well for a country making efforts to become a more genuine democracy.  On the other hand, there is little reason to believe the military will be ready to both take out Boko Haram and create a secure voting environment in just six weeks. Furthermore, given the high stakes in the race between current President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari – in the closest and most hotly contested since the end of military rule in 1999 – many are interpreting the election delay as politically motivated.

What is interesting about most of the dialogue currently surrounding the elections, however, is that it is largely focused at the center. Indeed, think tanks and election-oversight bodies have released study after study with polling data and predictions for presidential electoral outcomes, as well as scenarios for how the elections will impact an already delicate security situation across the country.

Though much of the international community is focused on the preparations for and outcome of the presidential contest now scheduled for March 28 , there is very little conversation about the state level elections taking place two weeks later on April 11.

While the national level race is certainly interesting and important, the top issues facing Nigerian voters must ultimately be dealt with locally. Economic empowerment through job creation is a prime example. Despite Nigeria’s substantial oil revenues, the country nonetheless suffers from massive unemployment and income inequality – the primary factors contributing to endemic poverty, low quality of life, and the growth of insecurity.

The solutions for boosting employment and opportunities for Nigeria’s poor and disenfranchised will not come from the Presidency. State and local governments will need to work in coordination with local businesses to create an enabling environment for small, medium, and large enterprises to thrive.  Therefore, the outcome of state elections will have as much (if not more) impact on the daily lives of Nigerians than the contest for the presidency.

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Will the Roadmap for Nigeria’s Future Include Women?

Nigerian businesswomen take part in a CIPE-sponsored mentoring program in 2011.

Nigerian businesswomen take part in a CIPE-sponsored mentoring program in 2011.

Nigeria will soon begin a national discussion that could redefine the foundations of the entire country. Unfortunately, as originally planned, this process would have left women largely out of the conversation.

On March 17, a National Conference including delegates from government, civil society, and the private sector will convene to consider rewriting the military-era constitution, redefining the country’s internal borders and administrative structures, strengthening institutions to combat corruption, and many other issues that may shape Nigerian society for years or decades to come.

The conference could usher in important changes for a nation plagued by corruption, religious conflict, and poverty — but the original  pool of nearly 500 delegates included just 72 women from three associations. With a 75 percent majority required to take what could be fundamental decisions about the country’s future direction, women were at risk of being completely marginalized.

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Silver linings in a golden year

2010 was undoubtedly a landmark year for Africa, as 17 countries in the sub-Saharan region celebrated 50 years of independence. It has been an eventful 50 years, indeed; in terms of governance and leadership, these 17 countries have seen the pendulum’s full swing, from coups and authoritarianism to elections and democratic victories; from socialism to market-based economies. However, democratic consolidation has yet to fully occur in any of these golden-year independent nations, and in some cases, democratic backsliding is a real threat.

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Don’t judge a continent by its cover

FP: The Bad Guys IssueThe most recent issue of Foreign Policy (FP) magazine features the world’s “bad guys”, the 23 worst of the worst dictators and leaders in power today. Working in the field of African development, it is difficult to see African countries consistently dominating international lists that do little to improve the perceptions of the continent; African countries consistently hold bottom rankings in world economic development indices and lead the pack for high levels of corruption, famine, high infant mortality rates, poverty, etc. Therefore, when I pulled the most recent edition of FP from my mailbox, I held on to hope that maybe, just this once, Africa won’t dominate this list as well.

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