ABUJA — The deadly Boko Haram insurgency gripping northeastern Nigeria has intensified in recent months, and some Nigerians say it could destroy the ruling party’s chance of winning next year’s elections. But some analysts say the insurgency is being used as a political weapon for both sides.
No candidates have announced that they are running for president, but Nigeria’s 2015 elections are already expected to be the most hotly-contested in the country’s history.
In the northern states, where attacks blamed on Boko Haram continue to grow more frequent and more vicious, some leaders say if the region is not secured, President Goodluck Jonathan cannot win.
More than 700 people have been killed this year alone, and nearly 500,000 are displaced from their homes. Schools across the region were closed this week after a series of massacres and school burnings.
“Some of the most fundamental mandates of each government is to provide security," noted Khalid Aliyu Abubakar, secretary-general of Jama'atu Nasril Islam, a prominent Islamic organization in Nigeria. "And there’s no excuse this country or this leadership can give of not being able to provide security."
Others say in the past 10 months, military rule in three northeastern states has prevented the insurgency from spreading.
In the oil-rich Niger Delta region - the heart of Jonathan’s support base - Gabriel Osakene, a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, or PDP, says violence in only 3 of Nigeria’s 36 states will not change the outcome of the elections.
“How many states are we talking about [with] this Boko Haram issue? If you think about this issue of Boko Haram we have only just three major states that are talking about this Boko Haram,” said Osakene.
Nigeria’s ruling PDP has won every election since the country became a democracy in 1999. The 2015 elections, however, could be different. For the first time, opposition parties have merged, forming a single powerful bloc called the All Progressive Congress, or APC, bent on ousting the PDP.
Thomas Hansen, a senior analyst for Africa at Control Risks, said both the PDP and the APC were already using the insurgency as a political tool.
“The APC are likely to claim that the continuation of the Boko Haram insurgency in the north demonstrates that the government lacks control of its security situation. Then, on the other hand, supporters of the ruling PDP are likely to claim that Boko Haram are being tacitly supported or sponsored by elements in order to undermine the image of the government,” he said.
Hansen said the security crisis could also impact the voting itself in the north, especially in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, the three states under emergency rule.
“It’s still very unclear if the security situation will improve enough for the elections to be held there. I think elsewhere in northern Nigeria there are also likely to be security issues that will deter some voters from going to the poling stations,” he said.
Even without the Boko Haram issue, Nigerian elections are notoriously tense, with political divisions falling along the same lines as religious and ethnic divisions.
Nigeria’s electoral commission says it is working with security agencies to prepare for next year’s vote. In 2011, more than 800 people were killed in post-election violence in northern Nigeria.
(Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta. Ibrahima Yakubu contributed from Kaduna.)