Flashback to 2011 Elections: A Game of Zones

Stears continues its recap of previous elections by looking at psychologically-important 2011 edition.


Nigerians had two primary options as they headed to the polls: confirm a caretaker president from a minority tribe or crown a perennial contestant whose glory days were tied to military rule. Ultimately, the rags-to-riches tale of the affable professor struck a chord with the electorate, but his election led to levels of violence that betrayed the long path to unity for the country. 


The Background

The 2011 election was the fourth since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, and the major players in this election were the ruling People Democratic Party (PDP), the newly formed Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

This election was fraught with controversy, as there were questions regarding whether the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, could contest under the PDP as it was contrary to the zoning formula which rorated power between the Muslim North and the Christian South every two terms. As President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has died before completing his first term, the North believed it was still their turn to rule.


The Stakes

With the enactment of the Electoral Act 2010 based on the recommendations of the Uwais Report, it was clear that there was intent to right the wrongs of the 2007 election.

With the enactment of the Electoral Act 2010 based on the recommendations of the Uwais Report, it was clear that there was intent to right the wrongs of the 2007 election. The preceding polls were widely adjudged to be the worst elections in Nigeria’s history and damaged the reputation of Nigeria internationally. 

Nigeria had also been affected by a global economic crisis and after suffering with an often-absent president, the electorate was desperate for leadership. With opposition parties failing to unite, and Jonathan successfully connecting with the people, many who were jarred by his treatment at the hands of the political elite after the death of his boss. As such, Jonathan began the campaign with uncommon goodwill among the polity. 


The Result

In April 2011, Goodluck Jonathan became the first Nigerian outside the three main tribes to be elected as President. He got over 22 million votes, nearly 60% of the votes cast, while Buhari lost his third successive election, securing just over 12 million votes.

However, the results was tainted by post-election violence that saw hundreds injured and at least 800 killed. All candidates condemned the events, but it meant that Jonathan would begin his first full-term with a security crisis.


The Fallout/Legacy

Following the criticism of the 2007 elections from the international community, it was important that things were made right, and the 2011 edition was the litmus test. There was a significant improvement in the credibility and transparency of the electoral process, and the electoral reforms and independence of the electoral body under the leadership of Professor Attahiru Jega restored hope and confidence in the electoral process. 

Yet, the scores of deaths and the rising strength of Boko Haram led to increased attacks throughout the Northern region of the country. The suicide bombing at the UN office was one of several instances where Nigerians responded to a painful and new reality of increased security. These issues would become even more prominent four years later.