Hope to win an election in Nigeria? Start campaigning for your opponent

This past week, campaign posters advancing a 2015 bid for the presidency by Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi appeared in Port Harcourt and other parts of the Niger Delta. Campaign posters alleging the presidential intent of the Governor have appeared frequently throughout the country since he became estranged from President Goodluck Jonathan earlier this year.

According to WorldStage Newsonline, a business and technology media house, Amaechi has floated speculation that his opponents are behind the posters.  The governor has emphasized that he has no intentions of running for head of state.

For more, here’s an interview of Rotimi Amaechi on BBC’s Hard Talk:

Why would a political opponent want to print and distribute hundreds of posters campaigning for his rival?

The possible answer to this question is deeply rooting in the complexities of the ongoing political crisis in Nigeria.

While not mandated by law, Nigerians have come to accept a political norm that the presidency should rotate between the North and the South.  This norm has been challenged due in large part to the unique circumstances under which President Goodluck Jonathan came to power.  In 2010, President Umaru Yar’Adua’s died in office.  Jonathan was at that time Vice President, and succeeded the late Yar’Adua through normal constitutional succession.

The problem, however, is that Yar’Adua was a northern and Jonathan is a southerner.  As a result, some Nigerians are demanding that the next president come from the north.  They feel as though Yar’Adua’s death and Jonathan’s re-election last year have lead to an imbalance of representation for the North.

Enter Amaechi – the South South region’s highly successful and wildly popular River’s State Governor and Chairman of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum.  After Amaechi announced that he would not support Jonathan’s re-election bid in 2015, speculation that Amaechi planned to run for president erupted throughout Nigeria.  Many who have benefited from Amaechi’s policies in Rivers State support the idea of an Amaechi presidency.  However, as an important state governor and keen politician, Amaechi has denied his intentions to run.

More likely, Amaechi would run as a vice presidential candidate with a Northerner as his presidential running mate.  This would allow Amaechi to position himself for a future bid at the high office, maintain his political clout across regions, and show his support for the political norm of North-South alternation.

As Amaechi has speculated, the posters which have appeared in Port Harcourt and elsewhere could be the attempts by rivals to decrease the governer’s popular support.  While the governor is presently admired throughout Nigeria, a bid for the presidency in 2015 would undoubtedly lead to backlash from northerners, diminishing his pool of resources and support.

This all rings of conspiracy and political intrigue.  The campaign materials could have just as easily been printed and distributed by private citizens or Amechi himself as an attempt to feel out reactions by both supporters and would-be rivals.  Regardless, the mysterious posters and the debate surrounding them demonstrates the important challenge that the 2015 election poses to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.


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