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.