Although the world is understandably fixated on ISIS, Europe, and Ukraine, the current political and security situation in Nigeria holds a significant strategic challenge for the United States.  The prospect for regional destabalization on a massive scale is not trivial, but finding political motivation to address the situation in a meaningful way and ahead of a crisis is seemingly illusive. 

As most people know, on February 8th, the upcoming nation-wide elections, including election of a President, were postponed.  The explanation for the postponement was the decreased security situation in the Northeast because of the Boko Haram attacks, and the subsequent multi-national military response against Boko Haram that will supposedly take away the security forces expected to ensure a safe and secure electoral process/environment.  There is no doubt that given Boko Haram’s recent activities, including cross-border attacks in neighboring countries, the likelihood that those in the Northeast regions would have a peaceful election process was minimal, at best.  That said, the delay has caused Nigerians and the international community to be concerned about the reasoning behind the postponement as well as its ultimate result on the democratic process.

There is an excellent Policy Brief by WANEP related to this issue.  WANEP’s “Very Likely” scenarios should give us pause.  They are:

The INEC Chair, Professor Attahiru Jega whose tenure is originally ending in June 2015 is disgusted with the influence and pressure from major political parties and decides to proceed on terminal leave ahead of the scheduled election date; political actors view the decision of the INEC Chair as orchestrated by the ruling party to appoint a more ‘loyal’ INEC Chair and subsequently rig the election; protests of different sorts and from different parts of the country provide impetus for the postponement of the election; this move is vehemently opposed by opposition political parties in some parts of the country leading to total breakdown of law and order.  (Listed under Worst Case Scenario, but Very Likely)

Amidst various speculations and uncertainties, the current dates of the election are maintained; the presidential election goes through the first round with no clear winner emerging; pockets of violence with accusations  and counter-accusations from the ruling and opposition parties is witnessed and controlled; the re-run date is announced, providing opportunity for the international community and eminent citizens to prevail on the likely loser to accept the result in the interest of the country. (Listed under Realistic Case Scenario).

Clearly, there is a very fine line between order and chaos.  The bottom line, which is emphasized in their Recommendations, is that transparency and engagement, jointly led by individuals within and external to Nigeria’s government and political parties are key to order.

Of critical importance, in my view, is the Institution of a Special Eminent Persons Forum.  But I would add that if sustainable peace and democracy are goals, the Nigerian government should use such a forum to create a permanent entity that focuses on conflict transformation and peace.  The best example is to take a page from Ghana and aim for a legislated National Peace Council.  72 Africa President, Rev. Dr. Clement M. Aapengnuo, was at the epicenter of laying the groundwork for this entity in Ghana, and we are prepared to assist the Nigerians reap the benefits of such an organization.  It won’t happen overnight, but its effects would be lasting.

Finally, rather than showing statesmanship concern for the electoral process, the United States should take a bold, leadership position in assisting the process.  The President’s approach of “Strategic Patience” is not what is needed here.  The problems are real and in front of us, and waiting until the region is in panic only ensures that we will be in a similar situation as we are in Iraq/Syria.  This can and should be avoided.  Stay tuned for more thoughts in this regard . . .