An Election of Firsts: The Uniqueness of the March 2015 Presidential Elections In Nigeria


It is of no doubt that the just concluded presidential election on the 28th of March has been by far the most epochal period in the history of Nigerian elections. The brand new political awakening – precipitated by a decade mastery of the social media by the Nigerian people – which blew over the political…


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It is of no doubt that the just concluded presidential election on the 28th of March has been by far the most epochal period in the history of Nigerian elections. The brand new political awakening – precipitated by a decade mastery of the social media by the Nigerian people – which blew over the political landscapes, indeed had a lot to do with the exciting nature of the elections and the electioneering process. Indeed the March 2015 election was an election of firsts.

First, after the election results were announced the incumbent government embodied in the person of President Jonathan, conceded defeat. This so far is the most obvious and talked about ‘first’. The president’s panegyrists have gone so far as to nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, because by conceding defeat he prevented a bloodbath whose aftermath would have made the killing fields of Cambodia look like a stand-up comedy show. And Jonathan’s detractors believe it is an abhorrent thing for anyone to think about nominating him for a Nobel peace prize because he did something that should be normal – after all his administration was scandalized by numerous cases of mismanagements and misappropriations. Some even go as far as saying the president did a commendable thing by conceding defeat in a free and fair election, but they leave it at that – just a commendable act, nothing more.

But one thing that might help is putting Jonathan’s act in context. Just before the election there were reports of politically motivated vigilante and militant groups stockpiling arms. Some of these groups it was alleged went so far as to purchase battle ships. A former Niger Delta Warlord said “2015 is more than do-or-die. It is our very survival that is being challenged, and we must tell them: you are a man and I am a man, we are going to meet on the battle field”.

The Northern Elders Forum, a pressure group said that “there is no going back on the presidency returning to the North in 2015”.On the 14 of October 2014, the same group said anyone who votes for Jonathan and the PDP in the 2015 elections, would be deemed an enemy of the North. The ruling party described the opposition as a “Nigeria’s Muslim Brotherhood”, and a “party of bloodthirsty, religious and ethnic bigots averse to the unity of the country” and even went as far as accusing them for being responsible for the blood raged Islamist group, Boko Haram, saying that the APC and its leaders are “a hypocritical lot, wolves in sheep skin, devils who, through their utterances, stoke the fires of violence by night only to wear messianic robes in the morning to shed crocodile tears for their victims”.

The APC was even known to threaten the formation of a parallel government if they lost the election perceiving it was rigged – which would have become the grand recipe for the failure of the Nigerian state.

In the aftermath of the 2011 presidential elections after General Buhari lost the election a bloodbath ensued leaving over 1000 people dead and almost 65000 people displaced, mostly in the north. In the face of all these General Buhari remained tacit.

But the legendary phone call, made by President Jonathan to General Buhari, before the final results were announced nipped, to a good level, whatever violence that might have erupted in the bud*.

Putting all these into context, factoring the history of election violence in the country and how easy it is to incite violence across ethnic and religious line in Nigerian one could see why indeed that sole act of President Jonathan is more than commendable.

Second, the electioneering process of the 2015 presidential elections was issues and facts based. For the first time in Nigeria an incumbent trying to be re-elected president tried to convince the electorate by using facts and figures. To huge swathes of the Nigerian people numbers mean nothing, but with a growing middle class and a new political awakening, leading to more sophisticated voters, the use of facts and numbers might just be the key to getting elected. His administration was responsible for the construction of the Aba-Owerri road, lokoja-abuja road, Owerri-port harcourt road. Roads that were in the past death traps. In the transport sectors, the railway system was rehabilitated. Today there exist intra-city and inter-state functional railway systems. These new trains are set to transport thousands of tonnes of goods and people every day giving the Nigerian economy a serious boost. Jonathan’s effort in the agricultural sector helped reduce the importation of food from =N= 1000 billion to =N= 600 billion. All these and many more President Jonathan made sure were advertised to the Nigerian electorate, in order to secure their votes. Never had something on this scale been done before.

Finally, to win an election a candidate must capture two out of the three regions in Nigeria. These three regions include the North, West and East – the Western and Eastern regions are collectively categorized as the South. In the past elections, General Buhari was only able to capture a majority vote in the Northern part of the country, losing to other candidates who were able to capture the other two regions. For example, the diagrams below show the numbers of states won by the presidential candidates in the 2011 election and 2015 elections respectively.


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In this image, one sees how regional in nature the votes were dispersed. Most of the Northern part of the country voted for Buhari, while the West and the East, i.e. the Southern part of the country was captured by Jonathan. Ribadu’s case is clearly an aberration on this list.



Image source:

As we can see for the first time General Buhari was able to capture most of the Northern and the Western part of the country. The west was the tipping point for General Buhari to secure his victory.

Indeed one could say the democratization process is finding its voice in the Nigerian state, and Nigeria might just be on its way to become one nation and not more a country if many nations.


* The manuscript of the call goes thus:

President Jonathan: Your Excellency

General Buhari: Hello Your Excellency

President Jonathan: How are you?

General Buhari: I am alright Your Excellency

President Jonathan: (laughs) Congratulations

General Buhari: Thank you very much Your Excellency

President Jonathan: Yeah, so how are things?

General Buhari: Well I would congratulate you more…

President Jonathan: one of these days you should come so we sort out how to plan the transitional period

General Buhari: Thanks Your Excellency, Thank you very much

President Jonathan: Okay… Congratulations

General Buhari: my respect Your Excellency…



  1. Nosa
    I am going to try and not talk about Jonathan’s works (railway, road and such). I am even going to ignore the maps.

    But Nobel Peace Prize??!!! Seriously, for doing his job? which is to ensure the safety and well-being of the nation he serves. Please, please , please, I will clap for him if i can but to start using the words Hero, Legend on someone who is doing what is constitutionally required of him? issorai. I’m not going to put anything into context , the only acceptable context should be “a supposedly democratic system with all its mechanics working” and in that context, what he did should be normal. But just because we don’t have such system yet doesn’t mean we should hero-praise every step that is expectedly required to get us there

    1. Tam
      Jonathan Indeed should not be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. I really do not think he should, but this would not stop our friends in Oslo and Stockholm from giving him if they want to – am I am certain they would use the context I have mentioned to do this. They have been known to give very controversial Nobel Peace Prizes, e.g. Henry Kissinger in 1973 and Barack Obama in 2009. But that is besides the point.

      As you say “But just because we don’t have such system yet doesn’t mean we should hero-praise every step that is expectedly required to get us there”. I do not think we should hero-praise someone for doing something that is normal, or should be normal. But really is it not when some does something that is not common, that the person is praised? Jonathan’s act could be called a commendable act and a heroic act – I like to think it depends on the interpreters perception, idiosyncrasies and semantics.

      But then Jonathan deserves adulation, maybe not of the same prestige of the Nobel Prize or the MO Ibrahim Prize, when his whole administration is considered as a whole.

  2. Chinedov
    Yes, he did a good job by conceding defeat and averting all the bloodshed (from the magnitude of the corruption perpetrated under his watch, defeat was imminent anyway). But to even have designs on the Nobel Peace Prize borders on madness.

    He did nothing out of the ordinary, just something un-Nigerian / un-African – and so deserves no greater than a round of applause from us all.

  3. Tori
    That telephone conversation must have been so awkward. I could feel it just by reading the transcript. I’m sure “transcript” is what you meant, not “manuscript”.
  4. bucci
    Well, for me…to measure Success or achievement is always on a scale…so Nobel prize might be a far cry, but for the Mo Ibrahim I think he could be in for the running, Jonathan distinguished himself in africa, he had all the pointers to steer a crisis(militants are better trained and equipped would have followed him and others in the south south, South East region (as shown by Godsday orubebe), even some of us. Imagine the presidents PVC fails(of all the PVCs), as for doing what is expected or normal, if it’s so easy or cheap to always do what the society expects, the world will be in absolute peace right now…for me he had the guns(bigger guns maybe), but not only refused to shoot, also stopped the enemy from using their own (that’s his legacy or rather paramount legacy) and he once said this till am gone will nigerians appreciate all he has done…hold on that and look back 5years from now.
  5. Ajoke
    I think the place to start is to evaluate what normalcy is, and whether we like it or not, admit it or not, the fact still remains that it is not normal for the opposition to accept defeat, how much more the president. It is no news that the life of the average man matters little to politicians who will stop at nothing to get power. I believe you have rightly captured the issues and put it within the relevant context. While we do not appreciate the bloodshed that was averted, it will always serve us well never to forget our past. In 2011, there was a general consensus that INEC had done a good job, however the General did not accept defeat and we know the resultant effect on our people. In 2015 under the same circumstances, a different response and a completely different result emerged.
    If we try to quantify it, we would go nowhere, because no monetary value can be placed on any human life. In the words of the president, “My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian” and he proved it by stepping down without a fight. We can’t say the same of some others. Thank you Tam.

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