x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nigeria's future built on more than luck alone

Nigeria's elections may not be completely free and fair, but they're a marked improvement from tumultuous years past.

Goodluck Jonathan has lived up to his name. The former zoologist has often been at the right place at the right time, rising from provincial politics to the Nigerian presidency in little more than a decade. Mr Jonathan assumed office upon the ill-health and eventual death of Umaru Yar'Adua last year; yesterday more than 70 million Nigerians began the voting process to decide whether he would remain there.

Mr Jonathan is widely expected to gain the most votes, though he may not win enough to avoid a second ballot. More importantly for Nigeria, however, the balloting appears to have been the cleanest in the country's history: in the run-up to the vote, allegations of rife corruption and election-rigging have been far fewer than in the past. In a country that had its first peaceful transfer of power under civilian rule only four years ago, this is no small feat.

Mr Jonathan's promise to serve only one term has helped him to build a broad base of support from many different regions of Africa's most populous country. Many Nigerians also hope that Mr Jonathan will have a greater appetite for tackling corrupt and established interests since he will not be standing for election again and dependent on their support.

This kind of power-sharing and pragmatism have been all too rare in Nigerian politics. The country's promise, stemming from its fertile soil, its mineral wealth and large market, has remained largely unfulfilled throughout the nation's 50 year post-colonial history. While some of its difficulties are rooted in its colonial past, others are very much the country's own creation, particularly those that stem from the weakness of its institutions and politics of patronage. The way Nigeria's oil profits, which represent 80 per cent of the government's annual budget, have been distributed has created particular problems.

The Niger Delta, the most mineral rich area of the country, is also one of the most underdeveloped, while the capital, Abuja, with scant natural wealth, has a skyline that has few rivals on the African continent. These disparities in the distribution of wealth and opportunity compound ethnic and religious tensions that have existed longer than the country itself.

The country's transition to democracy is still a work in progress. Yesterday's election, however, is an important milestone. Nigeria will not rid itself of its endemic corruption overnight. In order for Mr Jonathan's rise to be more than a spell of good luck for his country, his coalition building efforts must be a model to a new generation of Nigerian's who hope not only to advance their own fortunes, but that of their nation's.