Nigeria — Africa’s most-populated country — is a place of vibrant culture, robust diversity and great pride. However, dangerously divisive politics and soaring poverty rates have put the country in a constant state of unrest and tension.
“Nigeria is a country that has been rocked by a lot of political instability,” said Chukwuebuka Ezeakacha, a native of southeast Nigeria and music director and graduate teaching assistant at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “We operate in democracy, however, it is not a perfect democracy. More often than not, the rights of the citizens are not really protected. Unless you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone at the top.”
In late February, the most recent presidential election in Nigeria saw incumbent Muhammadu Bahari declared the winner over his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, by nearly 4 million votes. But Buhari’s apparent victory and subsequent promise to intensify efforts toward restructuring the economy and fighting corruption were met with swift opposition from Abubakar and his supporters.
Abubakar rejected the election results and vowed to challenge them in court, calling the process militarized and a sham. His refusal to concede was a stark contrast to the peaceful transition of power that occurred in 2015.
“If I had lost in a free and fair election, I would have called the victor within seconds of me being aware of his victory to offer not just my congratulations, but my services to help unite Nigeria by being a bridge between the north and the south," Abubakar said.
According to reports, Abubakar’s non-concession might have merit.
More than 35 people were reportedly killed in election violence. There were reports of voter intimidation, burned and stolen ballots and massive delays at voting stations that severely depressed voter turnout in key districts.
The Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria found that just 27 million of 84 million registered voters were represented at the polls. Lagos, which is widely considered the commercial hub of Nigeria, somehow only produced 1.1 million votes out of 20 million residents.
Ezeakacha, who goes by the name “Gabriel,” said he has friends within the INEC, and that he feels the election results were falsified based on what he knows, his experience in Nigeria and his interactions with citizens.
“I have friends who work in the electoral commission,” Gabriel said. “The election was a sham, a total sham … It was clear to all, we all knew what was happening. The count was falsified, rigged.”
Temi Oyebola, president of the African Students Association and native of Lagos, concurred, and attributed some of Nigeria’s political unrest to deep-rooted tribalism, bribery and corruption.
“The bribery, violence and inhuman acts that happen in the name of ‘our candidate must win,’” Oyebola said. “Armed men going to polling stations to force people to vote for their preferred candidate — and in some cases, murder — for just not having the same political opinion ... It goes as far as tribalism and lack of trust, and the belief you can’t win without rigging, which is true.”
For now, as Nigeria’s President, Bahari is tasked with fixing an economy that has the country among the world’s poorest. The World Poverty Clock finds that there are now 87 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty and surviving on less than $2 a day. The declining value of the country’s main cash source — oil — is the chief cause. Nigeria’s current economy is heavily reliant on oil revenue, and as the value drops from roughly $100 to $40 a barrel, Nigeria’s wealth suffers.
The result is a populous that routinely struggles to consistently sustain basic amenities.
“Electric power is one of the issues we have in Nigeria,” Gabriel said. “I keep saying, ‘If we can solve the issue of electric power, we’ll solve 90% of Nigeria’s problems.’ Electric power basically runs the world.”
Both Gabriel and Oyebola said they find joy in the richness of Nigeria’s culture and heritage, the incredible diversity of its citizens and the country’s ability to come together for entertainment despite political unrest and sometimes unideal conditions.
“The people, food, culture and tourism ... the city never sleeps,” Oyebola said.
“We are very proud people,” Gabriel said. “We are proud of our heritage, our blackness. We are never ashamed or afraid to let you know who we are.”
Gabriel said he remains optimistic about the future of Nigeria and what’s to come.
“We are heading to a society where people can have their rights protected, where people can actually be held accountable for their actions, a society where things actually work,” Gabriel said.