A Giant Stirs


With national and regional elections on the agenda for early 2015, the race is on for the ruling People's Democratic Party to prove to the voters it still has what it takes to improve the country's development path.

Since gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria underwent a turbulent period in its early history. However, following the restoration of democracy in 1999 under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, ushering in what is called the “Fourth Republic,” the country has steadily sought to improve standards of governance and accountability on all levels of state. The later election of President Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 and his replacement by Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 following the untimely death of the former has seen Nigeria’s democratic traditions strengthened in terms of the handing over of power. Despite these positive developments on the state level, the need to better spread the natural resource wealth of the country and encourage heightened economic diversity remain at the top of the political agenda, especially so as to improve security levels in the more far-flung states within this diverse and populous republic. Elections set for February 2015 are set to test the popularity of the incumbent president. The elections will encompass all levels of the political system, aside from the governorships of seven of the federal states, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Nonetheless, the political and economic giant of West Africa will continue to play a key role in regional politics, with its diplomatic and military skills being employed to maintain stability in a region oft beset by challenges.


The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a composed of 36 states and one Federal Capital Territory, centered in Abuja. The president of the republic is both the head of state and the chief of the national executive, as well as being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Presidents are eligible to remain in office for a maximum of two 4-year terms, with the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan able to stand for re-election by universal suffrage in the first half of 2015 to potentially serve a second full 4-year period in office. Campaigning for the elections, which must be held no later than April 28, 2015 in accordance with the timetable set down by the INEC, began in earnest in November 2015.

After serving a short term as interim president following the death of Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua in May 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan was able to win 58.19% of the national vote in the 2011 elections, outstripping the 31.98% of the vote won by Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) candidate Muhammadu Buhari, as outlined by data from the Nigerian Elections Coalition. The President’s party drew much of its support from the southern and central regions of the country during the election, though making gubernatorial gains in the north as well, underlining the underlying political dynamic within the Nigerian electorate.

The Nigerian Cabinet, which is presided over by the President, is composed of 19 core ministries and a further 22 sub-ministries or ministries of state. In November 2014, only two of these ministries remained vacant, those of Aviation and the First Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. By tradition, the ministries are distributed throughout the 36 states of the federal republic to ensure regional parity and preserve diversity at the executive level. At times, these ministries are divided or reassigned to focus on specific priority areas in accordance with the needs of the executive.


Acting as a primary check on the powers of the executive is the bicameral parliament. The National Assembly is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and its members are popularly elected to 4-year terms in accordance with the constitution. The 109-member Senate is composed of three representatives from each of the federal states and one member from the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The lower house, or House of Representatives, is composed of 360 members, with the distribution of seats across the republic determined by population size. Although both houses serve mainly a legislative function, they also have the ability to form commissions, and are often viewed as a useful check on the powers of the executive. The Senate also has the responsibility to approve all members of the Nigerian Cabinet as well as certain high-ranking state officials, and can also be called on by the president to impeach members of the judiciary and the heads of key state organizations. All legislation must be passed by both houses of parliament for it to become law and also receive the approval of the president. Should the latter veto a piece of legislation, the National Assembly can assert its primacy over the executive presidency by passing such legislation via a two-thirds majority in both houses.

In the last elections held in April 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) walked away with 53 of the seats in the Senate and another 152 members in the House of Representatives, according to the Nigerian Elections Coalition. The main opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), scored 18 Senate members and 53 seats in the House of Representatives. The CPC came in third place, with six senators and 31 members of the lower house. The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) took four Senate posts and managed to win 23 seats in the lower house, while the remainder of seats were mopped up by smaller parties and independent candidates.

In the run up to the 2015 election cycle, the ACN, CPC, ANPP, and a faction from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (AGPA) decided in late 2013 to merge and form the All Progressives Congress (APC). Following a defection of members from the PDP, the ACN is now believed to command a majority of the 360-seat House of Representatives, with 174 members, although the website of the ACN officially lists 132 MPs, 27 senators, and 16 governors as being among their ranks, reflecting the vicissitudes of local politics and the changing nature of regional and party alliances that lie at the heart of Nigeria’s political complexity. In late 2014, the APC selected General Muhammadu Buhari as its united candidate to challenge Goodluck Jonathan at the February 14, 2015 polls.

In a similar fashion to the executive presidency, each of the 36 states have governors, deputy governors, and state assemblies that are elected according to the same electoral cycle as at the national level. As for the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, the senate member is selected by the presidency. Some seven states will not participate in the national polls in 2015: Anambra, Balyesa, Kogi, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, and Osun.


In terms of the third wing of government, the judiciary is presided over by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The judicial system in Nigeria is a mixed one. While Common Law, derived from the country’s British colonial past, is the primary mode of justice, the country also features Customary Law derived from regional and tribal beliefs and traditions, and Sharia Law, as practiced in 12 states in the north of the country. These legal divisions reflect the tribal and religious diversity of Nigeria, which has heavily influenced the nation’s political development and internal power dynamics.


Nigeria plays an active role in regional and pan-African affairs, as befits a nation with both the largest population and GDP on the continent. The country is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2014-2015 cycle, the fifth time Nigeria has held this seat since its independence. Over this cycle, Nigeria has sought to use its status to push for sanctions against the al-Qaida linked Boko Haram terrorist group operating in parts of northern Nigeria and other neighboring states. The group has been involved in a spate of abductions, robberies, and killings over recent years that have challenged local security forces.

As a result of its British colonial past, Nigeria remains an influential member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It last hosted a Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in December 2003.

As a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Nigeria played a key role in its evolution into the African Union (AU) in 2001, with Abuja playing host to the African Central Bank (ACB), one of the AU’s key three financial mechanisms. The ACB is anticipated to take over all the functions of the African Monetary Fund by 2028, and may well culminate in the creation of a single African currency.

In regional terms, the country’s foreign policy espouses what some call the “Pax Nigeria” in Western Africa, with the economic and military capabilities of the country often called on by neighboring states in times of economic distress or internal conflict. The primary mechanism through which this is expressed is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which was launched in 1975. ECOWAS has been charged with instituting a customs and currency union between its member states. A sub-grouping of six ECOWAS member states, including Nigeria, have formed the basis of the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), which is looking to create a single currency unit called the Eco and merge with the West African CFA franc in the near future.

With the 2014 recalculation of Nigerian GDP to reflect it as the largest economy on the African continent, Nigerians are looking with renewed confidence as to their role on the world stage. Relations with Asian giant China have begun to show fruit, with the country now one of Nigeria’s main trading partners. These relations were highlighted by the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Abuja in May 2014, during which he held talks with President Goodluck Jonathan on the two countries growing trade relations. Overall, the key foreign policy directives of Nigeria, including promoting the interests of the nation and its citizens around the world, are beginning to bear economic fruit, as the need for this African giant to better promote internal economic development comes more to the policy fore.

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