Why Nigeria's Rejection of Goodluck Jonathan Is a Lesson For Africa

Celebrating Muhammadu Buhari's in Abuja on April 1
Celebrating Muhammadu Buhari's in Abuja on April 1


PARIS — During the nail-biting four days of an election that many warned would be too close to call, Nigeria was in a collective state of high anxiety. Then, in a twist for Africa's most populous nation, a presidential election that had threatened to end in a bloodbath instead concluded peacefully with the incumbent president defeated.

The man who has been leading the country since 2010, Goodluck Jonathan, conceded defeat and congratulated his rival, Muhammadu Buhari. "I have promised this country free and fair elections," he said. "I have kept my word. Nobody's ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian." Never before in the country's history had a head of state accepted a change in power.

Nobody really knows yet what Buhari's presidency will mean for Nigeria, a country where political life has rarely been violence-free. But what prevailed after the result was announced was a series of joyful demonstrations triggered by Jonathan's "heroic" defeat and the collective hope that it would represent a turning point.

Jonathan in a way contributed to his own loss by reinforcing the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, thus guaranteeing that the electoral process would follow a proper course until the end.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan voting on March 28 — Photo: NAN/Xinhua/ZUMA

The president has lost, but Nigeria has won. The result is a signal that Nigerians are finally determined to see their elected representatives answer for their actions. With their votes, they punished waste, unemployment, inequalities, dilapidated universities, and the inability to fight against terror group Boko Haram. That and the crazy money of a corrupted elite that travels in private jets.

Astronomical amounts of money had been distributed to try and buy victory. But Nigerian voters are not so easily bought anymore. They can no longer be driven to polling stations en masse by the simple fear of violence or the strength of their religious or ethnic identity. They voted with admirable patience.

This energy, this will to weigh in on the nation's choices is a lesson of hope for democracies around the world. It's important that it comes from Africa and that they don't owe it to anybody but themselves. No foreign power dictated to Nigeria the recipe for its own hope.

In 2014, the country overtook South Africa to become the continent's biggest economy. It's now up to Muhammadu Buhari to take the challenge to a new level, to build a new democratic model. Of course, with 174 million inhabitants, Nigeria remains a rentier economy that's feebly diversifying. But saying only that would be to ignore the pace of its transformations, some of which are Goodluck Jonathan's doing.

Seen from Nigeria post-election, African heads of state who cling to power and flee from electoral justice look so dishonest, narrow-minded and selfish.

The African giant has administered a great lesson to all countries with rigged elections, reigning families and presidents who "answer the people's calls" never to leave power. May it be a long-lasting one.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!