For starters this is not the first time that Nigeria has postponed national elections. Elections were postponed as recently as 2011 in the last presidential poll. Former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida holds the unenviable record in tinkering with timetables for elections. For instance the 1993 elections were at various times shifted, postponed, cancelled and eventually annulled by the toothy military strongman. That cancellation triggered off national unrest that brought Nigeria to the brink.
Boko Haram Wins
The reason given for the postponement is the mobilization of Nigerian forces in the fight against Boko Haram's insurgency in the North-East.
The escalation of the multi-national counter insurgency operation against Boko Haram less than two weeks to national elections is quite intriguing.
Some argue that it was Boko Haram's recent incursions into Niger, Cameroun, and Chad and its attack on the key city of Maiduguri with a view to disrupting the elections which has made this measure necessary. However one may explain this, the truth is that this radical Islamic fundamentalist group is winning in many ways by disrupting Nigeria's national life, creating the greatest humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and the sub-region in over three decades; and seriously hampering economic activities in this part of the region and the attendant human cost to the country and her neighboring countries.
It must be admitted that given the porous nature of national borders in the West African sub-region, and the fluidity of human movement across the continent, Boko Haram is spreading its murderous aggressive theocracy and extremism beyond Nigeria. Radical Islamism in Sub-Saharan Africa is a convoluted and complex hydra headed monster which reveals the complex socio-political and religious map of the West African sub-region. It goes back especially to the 19th century Jihadist, Uthman Dan Fodio who permanently altered the map of West Africa through his revolutionary Islamic campaign against West African indigenous peoples. In what later became Nigeria, Dan Fodio's Jihad led to the founding of the Sokoto Caliphate which dominated the ancient Kanem Bornu kingdom of the Kanuris and all the other smaller kingdoms who were all placed under the Hausa-Fulani Islamic hegemony. This is an important historical fact in understanding why Boko Haram's cell is spreading North-East towards Chad--with cultural bond with Kanem Bornu empire rather than to the Western or central Northern Nigerian cities like Kano, Sokoto or Kaduna.
However, the Islamic fighters in the dry desert of Northern Nigeria or in the vast dusty Sahara waste land of Mali or in the patched highways of Niger are not some neo-gramscian sub-alterns who are subverting the normalization of state failure. They are not properly speaking Islamic reformist group with any puritanic and transcending ethics of community like, Uthman dan Fodio.
Boko Haram is a band of disenchanted religious bigots and anarchists, who are using the name of Islam to trigger a religious war in Nigeria and the rest of the West African sub-region through their anti-Western and anti-Christian rhetoric and fundamentalist agenda.
As scholar, Lamin Sanneh pointed out, Islam is surviving the acceleration of the pace and power of secularization of the brave new world through strong and radical appeal to Islamic justification of conflict, intolerance, and rampant violence. It is doing this under the aegis of a presumed renewal of Islam from the clutches and decay of a secularized West. This agenda is true of Boko Haram's initial rationale for fighting Western education in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. Unfortunately, in an environment where most young West African Muslims are illiterate and where most of them are poor, this kind of narrative will easily be accepted without any counter-balancing argument.
Suspicion and Mistrust Grows with the Postponement of National Elections
The conspiracy theorists in Nigeria are already claiming that the postponement of the election is part of a grand plan by the military and the ruling party to rig the elections and subvert what they perceive as the desire in Nigeria for a change of direction.
But Nigeria is a country where there is a deep mistrust between various ethnic groups and religious bodies in the country. Most national issues are viewed with suspicion. One of the saddest realities of Nigeria's national history is the lack of trust between the leaders and the citizens and among the political elites themselves. This explains why many Nigerians suspect that there may be a hidden agenda behind the shifting of the date for national elections beyond the stated security challenges.
Countries like Afghanistan and Iraq with far greater insurgency have held national elections.
There are glaring signs of incompetence and disorganization on the part of the electoral commission (INEC). More than 30 million of would-be voters have not yet been issued with voting cards and the hiring and training of electoral officials have not been completed. Many well meaning Nigerians have called for the electoral commission's chair to resign because of the confusion and uncertainty created by the commission about the forthcoming elections with many Nigerians facing the possibility of being disenfranchised. So there are other issues besides security problems which need to be seriously and honestly addressed if there is any chance of successful free and fair elections in March.
It needs to be added, however, that the answer to the problem of Boko Haram is not simply counter insurgency or intelligence gathering no matter how effective these may be. Boko Haram and its associated projects and mindset will remain with Nigeria for a long time.
Even if it these fighters were crushed and defeated, chances are that other monstrous religious or ethnic militia will arise unless Nigeria addresses the main problem plaguing the country: bad governance and an unworkable political structure. Boko Haram is the consequence of Nigeria's convoluted history and lack of national integration. Boko Haram is the result of successive bad governments in Nigeria at federal level as well as at state and local county levels in Northern Nigeria. It is the fruit of the political grandstanding which led to the islamization and radicalization of millions of unemployed Northern Nigerian youth through the introduction of Sharia and stricter Islamic laws by Muslim governors between 1999 and 2010.
Boko Haram is only a new stage in the painful chapter of religious and ethnic violence and militancy which have become the preferred path to press for any claim in Nigeria by religious and ethnic groups. So the most important question for me in this election with regard to Boko Haram should be: What does Boko Haram reveal about Nigeria, her history, and her peoples and about the quality of her national and regional leaders and security apparatus?
Finally, it needs to be pointed out that Nigeria is a post-colonial state. What we are seeing in Nigeria is a classic third wave post-colonial reality, that is, the constant strains and stress of contestations within the divergent social constructs and socially and culturally bounded groups in search of a place in the post-colonial state. This occurs after many years when the post-colonial state has become exhausted with living the lies imposed on it by a foreign colonial power. Thus, in every post-colonial state in Africa, one can find cultural and counter-cultural inventory traces--some of them benign in their expressions, and some violent and aggressive. However, all of these are attempts to contest or destroy the hegemonic narrative and structure which prop up the state. Every post-colonial state must adopt a decolonizing pathway which rejects predictable or normative reasoning which holds that the colonial structure bequeathed to the people by the colonial cabals is a finished product which should be sustained through a predictable logic of unity at all costs or a deterministic constitutional regime.
Living together and forging bonds of peace is not simply a matter of constitution, good speeches, declarations or manifestoes: it requires a workable political arrangement, strong structures of justice, hard work, sacrifice, martyrdom, courage and resilience on the part of leaders and citizens to promote, protect, and preserve the common good.
What will be the future of Nigerians beyond these elections? What has the state offered the citizens? What the Nigerian state has offered is an unpredictable and consistent pattern of exploitation of the people, abuse and misuse of political and religious power, and a refusal to embrace honesty and integrity in dealing with the most pressing challenges facing the country.
Will Nigeria Ever be Ready?
So the final question then is: When will Nigeria be ready to take her place in world history? The postponement of national elections in Nigeria is for me a reflection of the Nigerian situation. This is a country which is never ready; never organized and never primed for the big league despite the claims of her government and citizens to be the Giant of Africa. This is quite painful because most Nigerians know that the country is so vastly gifted and should do better. Perhaps the next six weeks will offer the two parties the time to show Nigerians where they want to take the country and how they can address the challenges facing many Nigerians. Perhaps the next six weeks will give them time to articulate a clear national plan to make Nigeria ready for prime time in global affairs. I am hopeful that these elections could still bring out the best in Nigerians as a people who are proud of their cultural and national heritage. There is a certain American idealism which I see in my fellow Nigerians both at home and here in the US. It is the intrinsic belief in the ability of Nigeria to transcend the myriad problems facing the country; and the hope that Nigerians can accomplish whatever they put their minds to just like Americans. It is that spirit which inspired Nigerians to unite in the fight to successfully stamp out Ebola in the country. May that spirit lead to national renewal and national unity through this electoral process.