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Nigeria: Fair and Square?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 14, 2007 (070514)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Local and most foreign observers are united that the elections were "fundamentally flawed". ... The Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, that deployed 50,000 monitors across the country has not only condemned the widespread irregularities variously reported about the election it has gone further than any other group of monitors by categorically calling for a cancellation of the results and a rerun of the vote." - Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (

Mr. Yar'Adua ... told the BBC on 25 April 2007 that he believes he won the elections "fair and square." Why he chose not to use the common "free and fair" is obvious - no honest person will describe what transpired in the name of elections in Nigeria as "free and fair." - Teke Ngomba (

Despite such comments following Nigeria's elections last month, and a legal challenge still pending, the new Nigerian government has already received recognition and congratulations both from African states and from major powers. The inauguration of the new president is expected to take place as scheduled on May 29.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains selected commentary on the elections, from African commentators Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Tke Ngomba, cited above, and from Human Rights Watch Nigeria specialists Chris Albin-Lackey and Ben Rawlence.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains background on the election aftermath.

For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, see

For additional reports from Human Rights Watch see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

What's next for Nigeria?

The whole concept of African democracy is at risk

By Chris Albin-Lackey and Ben Rawlence, published in The Guardian

Human Rights Watch

[Chris Albin-Lackey is Nigeria researcher and Ben Rawlence is a consultant for Human Rights Watch. This commentary was published in The Guardian (]

May 8, 2007

Sadly the recent election, which was meant to be a step forward towards consolidating Nigeria's tenuous democracy after decades of abusive military rule, was not only brazenly rigged but also exceptionally violent, resulting in at least 300 election-related deaths. As Nigerians and the international community grapple with the scale of the government's contempt for their basic democratic rights, the question they should now be asking themselves with some urgency is: "What now?"

The polls have been roundly condemned by election-monitoring bodies. Observers from the European Union said that the whole process was "not credible" and the report they issued on the exercise was the most damning it had ever issued anywhere in the world. The US-based National Democratic Institute said that the process had "failed the Nigerian people".

The opposition in Nigeria is calling for the cancellation of the polls and a re-run. But President Olusegun Obasanjo is holding firm that his successor, Umaru Yar'Adua, was legitimately elected in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Nigeria's Independent Electoral Commission has agreed to a handful of re-runs. President Obasanjo has told aggrieved parties to go to court, and many opposition candidates are doing just that. The federal judiciary's recent assertions of independence provide some comfort to those who believe the ruling party and the electoral commission cheated them of votes. However, it is unlikely that the largest prize of all, the presidency, could fall to a legal challenge.

Nigeria's foreign partners must now decide how to link themselves to an administration that lacks the legitimacy the elections were meant to confer. They will console themselves that the new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, seems like a decent man. Even though Yar'Adua was the sitting governor of a state, Katsina, which saw electoral violence and vote-rigging, he was one of the few state governors to have avoided an indictment by Nigeria's anti-corruption watchdog. Some governments will be tempted to support the new Nigerian president based on the default position that a civilian president with no mandate is better than the alternatives: chaos or military rule.

But western and African governments alike should speak up about the government's blatant contempt for the rights of Nigerian citizens. They should demand immediate, serious and sustained reforms to regain some measure of the public trust that has been squandered not only by the gross irregularities that characterised last month's polls, but also by the Obasanjo administration's failure to do more to fight endemic corruption. G8 leaders meeting in Germany next month must recognise how Nigerian authorities have manifestly failed to deliver on the Millennium Development Goals, designed to improve the basic rights of people to health and education, and instead have shared the proceeds of record oil revenues among cronies and supporters.

The elections represented a big step backwards in the government's ostensible efforts to match economic reform with democratic openness and respect for basic rights. Reversing this trend and improving the human rights of Nigeria's 140m citizens can only start with a marked improvement in governance. Nigeria's western partners should not be idle bystanders. Instead they should be willing to condition non-humanitarian aid and security cooperation on clear evidence of reform, including the impartial investigation and prosecution of politicians suspected of subsidising recent election violence and committing serious electoral malpractice.

The government should bring criminal charges against ministers, governors and other officials implicated, and introduce legislation to strip governors of their immunity from prosecution, which has become an invitation to loot. Lastly, reforms should be put in place to make the country's electoral commission transparent and truly independent.

As Africa's most populated and second-richest country, Nigeria is a regional powerhouse that serves as a model for the continent. African nations have been largely silent on the shambles that was the election. Indeed, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was the first to congratulate Yar'Adua on his victory. Others followed, including Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who congratulated Yar'Adua on "his landslide victory". If Nigeria's recent democratic failure passes without consequences from the international community, then the very idea of democracy in Africa is at serious risk.

Chastise not thy friend

Teke Ngomba

May 4, 2007

[Excerpts only. Teke Ngomba is a journalism graduate from the University of Buea in Cameroon and presently studying journalism at the University of Amsterdam. He worked in South Africa in 2004, and has published extensively in Cameroon, South Africa, and on the web. The full version of this article, including references, was published by AfricaFiles (]

In 2005, the journal, International Affairs, published an article by James Barber titled 'The New South Africa's Foreign Policy: Principles and Practice.' In the article, worth quoting at length here, James Barber (2005:1083-1084) recounts, among others that:

'When Mandela came to power, Nigeria was under an authoritarian military regime led by General Sani Abacha. A protest campaign by the Ogoni people, who claimed that their land had been ruined by the oil industry, was broken by the regime and the leaders were arraigned before the military tribunal. They were found guilty of plotting a coup and attacking chiefs and ordered to be executed. Mandela, who saw the process as an infringement of human rights, attempted to restrain the Nigerians through diplomacy, including visits to Nigeria by Mbeki and Archbishop Tutu. At this point, in November 1996, Mandela attended his first Commonwealth Conference in New Zealand. On arrival, when questioned about Nigeria, he said he was sanguine about the situation.'

'However, next day, news came that the executions had taken place. Furious and humiliated, Mandela called for action. Following his lead, the conference suspended Nigeria from the Commonwealth, but Mandela wanted more, including diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions and pointed the way by withdrawing the South African High Commissioner.'

Mandela's efforts, James Barber notes regrettably, 'produced nothing. The West continued to buy oil, and the African states had no appetite for confrontation. ...Even at home, Mandela gained little support. After it was pointed out that Nigeria had given substantial financial support to the ANC's electoral chest, the government started back-pedaling. '

According to Barber, 'Mbeki told Parliament that South Africa must act not alone but in concert. He asserted that in Nigeria's case, understanding was preferable to confrontation. Then, he accused the West of manipulating Mandela and trying to expose him to ridicule ' In saying these, 'Mbeki', James Barber argues, 'succeeded in moving attention away from the abuse of human rights in Nigeria to criticism of the West.'

That was in 1996. Fast-forward to 2007 and we are faced once more, with another official South African reaction to an issue that concerns Nigeria and borders on human rights- the 2007 presidential elections in Nigeria.

Mbeki Congratulates Nigeria's Yar'Adua

If there is anything Nigerians agree on after the April 2007 parliamentary and presidential elections, it is that the elections were remarkably flawed. Both the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, outgoing President, Olusegun Obasanjo, contenders of the presidential elections and election observers, all agree that there were irregularities in the historic elections. ...

In an interview granted the BBC shortly after the proclamation of the contested results, President Obasanjo for example, acknowledged the irregularities during the elections and said 'but in the magnitude they happened, they could not have made the elections null and void.' ...

Mr. Yar'Adua, apparently conscious as well of the irregularities in the elections, has chosen to introduce a new diction in describing elections. He told the BBC on 25 April 2007 that he believes he won the elections 'fair and square.' Why he chose not to use the common 'free and fair' is obvious- no honest person will describe what transpired in the name of elections in Nigeria as 'free and fair.' ... Nigerians have, since the proclamation of these results, been in a state of uncertainty as they await the installation of Mr. Yar'Adua scheduled for 29 May 2007.

The remarkable silence of other African leaders to either condemn the elections or congratulate the 'president-elect' was broken on 25 April 2007 when President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa became the first president to officially congratulate Mr. Yar'Adua. ...

By taking the lead to congratulate Mr. Yar'Adua, President Mbeki implanted the first seeds of external legitimization of Mr. Yar'Adua and once more demonstrated, by not criticizing the conduct of the polls, his soft spot for the 'chastise not thy friend' ethos in diplomacy. ...

In 2003 in Abuja, President Mbeki clashed openly with President Obasanjo over Nigeria's call for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth arguing that same year that he believes the current crisis in Zimbabwe 'did not arise from the desperate actions of reckless political leadership or from corruption. It arose from genuine concern to meet the needs of the black population' and so the best option, he maintained, was for South Africa to exercise 'quiet diplomacy' in encouraging dialogue between the Zimbabwean government and its internal political opponents. (Barber, 2005:1093) ...

Obviously, adhering to this regrettable 'chastise not thy friend' ethos in diplomacy is not confined only to South Africa alone or only to Africa as a whole. China for example, is sealing its lips to overtly condemn the Khartoum government's actions in Darfur because of its 'friendly' ties to Sudan as a result of heavy Chinese investment in the oil industry in Sudan.

Western countries have also historically adhered to this logic. In Africa for example, their notorious 'friendly blind eyes' cast on Congo's Mobutu, helped to plunge the country into chaos. ...

Most often than not, where the 'chastise not thy friend' ethos in diplomacy has been put into use, it has often resulted in calamitous consequences for the civilian population in places such as Darfur and Zimbabwe, where civilians, weakened by the governments in place, depend on external pressure from friends of these regimes to help bring them out of the quagmire they find themselves in...

Pan-African Postcard

Nigeria: What next after the stolen mandate?

[Excerpted. For full text see]


Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem

[Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is the Deputy Director for the UN Millennium Campaign in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He writes this article in his personal capacity as a concerned pan-Africanist.]

What sense can one make of the 'result' of the Presidential election in Nigeria?

Local and most foreign observers are united that the elections were 'fundamentally flawed'. The Coalition of Domestic NGOs, CSOs and Think Tanks, under The Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, that deployed 50,000 monitors across the country has not only condemned the widespread irregularities variously reported about the election it has gone further than any other group of monitors by categorically calling for a cancellation of the results and a rerun of the vote.

The two leading Opposition candidates, retired General Muhammadu Buhari (ANPP) and embattled Vice President Abubakar Atiku (AC) and other presidential candidates (there were 24 of them!) immediately rejected the results and have declared that a new president cannot be sworn in on May 29 based on the result announced on Monday because they believed the elections were massively rigged in favour of the ruling party's and President Obasanjo's anointed Successor, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar 'Adua.

The losing candidates have left open their options for taking on the PDP and addressing their grievances including using the courts, public pressure, protests and international opinion.

On its part the PDP and President Obasanjo and the Electoral Commission have reacted not triumphantly but by conceding that there were 'problems' (understatement indeed!)with the conduct of the vote but they insist that the shortcomings were not sufficient to nullify the officially declared outcome.

So far there has not been much surprise in the reaction of the various interested parties including the sporadic violent reactions in opposition strongholds where voters felt that the declared result was not in accordance with their wishes. They burnt down houses, offices and other property belonging to members of the ruling party or suspected electoral officers or members of the public just caught up on the wrong side. Soon after the security forces move in and some calmness is restored. It is almost like the authorities were planning for a short period during which the frustrated voters can vent their spleen.

So what next? How long will these controversies last? And what long term impacts will they have on the body politic of the country?

In a game that will mostly be based on 'wait and see' the government has more time on its hand and can afford to wait. ...

Should they choose to go on the streets it may not yield any immediate political benefits too but definitely create more chaos, destruction and even more deaths for their supporters and innocent members of the public?

They also have to consider the reality of the power relations. Opposition will only be able to get away with public disorder and impunity in areas where they are most popular. Why make ungovernable places that are already sympathetic to you like Lagos, Kano for example.

Would you not be inviting the government to declare state of emergency and Direct PDP rule in those pockets of places where the opposition is actually in power? How will that play out with elected opposition candidates from those `areas? The critical Niger Delta has been disenfranchised for a long time that stealing their mandate again is just routine. And now they can even claim one of them is finally in Aso Rock since the new Vice President is from the Niger Delta.

The last time Nigeria had a free and fair election was June 12 1993 and the Military dictator, the Gap-toothed fiendish General I.B. Babangida and his regime annulled the result. National protests and international isolation followed forcing IBB out of power but the winner, Chief MKO Abiola, never regained his victory. Instead another military regime even more brutal than IBBs followed and Abiola died in prison. When Abacha was aided to his death in leisure the same Generals organized Abiola's`death in prison by choking on tea served to him in the presence of a 'visiting' (or was it supervising?) delegation of Senior US officials including Susan Rice`, Clinton's Assistant Secretary of State for Africa., Susan Rice!

The June 12 struggle that was a national campaign became isolated as a Yoruba affair in spite of the fact that Abiola would have won even without votes from Yoruba Land. Obasanjo was one of the scheming Generals who denied Abiola his mandate. Other Generals rewarded his betrayal of democracy by making him President after Abacha. And they are all now complaining about him.

The situation is different now. Neither Buhari nor Atiku can claim the same National mandate and popularity as was claimed for Abiola. They are also unable to transform the frustration of the voters into a sustainable popular struggle. A military coup is more or less out of the picture. They cannot accuse Obasanjo of favoring his ethnic group or his religious faith. So all the fault lines of Nigeria's politics are safe.

Just as the Generals gave Nigeria a President who was Yoruba in 1999 but not necessarily the preferred candidate of the Yoruba people Obasanjo has given us a President who is Hausa-Fulani Muslim but cannot be Hausa-Fulani President.

The sadness of it all is that I believe that Yar' Adua could still have won, may be not in such ridiculous margins. But the PDP has made it look like there were no good `reasons why many Nigerians would have voted for him given the limited choice they had of really effectively choosing between three candidates. One a former General and the other a former Custom Officer and Yar 'Adua, the only civil civilian who also had a reputation for running a decent administration in his state and also one of only a handful of the 36 state governors not known or believed not to be corrupt.

Obasanjo has `helped` Yar Adua to the gate of Aso Rock he cannot cohabit with him in it. It will now depend on him how he shoulders on. It will take more than his initial reconciliatory statements to his ``worthy opponents`` for the controversies and the credibility deficit with which he was anointed to settle.

Obasanjo turned against those who facilitated his entrance into that bastion of power therefore he cannot expect that he would be driving Yar Adua from behind. Proxy politics like opposition ganging up have both never really worked in Nigeria. One of the first things Yar Adua has to do with immediate effect is to unlearn some of his benefactor's worst ways of doing things. Politics is about persuasion not conquering your opponents.

The International Election tourists otherwise known as Observers or Monitors will already be on their way to the next election in some other country by now, cutting and pasting, on their high powered laptops, as they go. Democracy in any country can only be guaranteed by the peoples of that country not any group of outsiders no matter how well-meaning. EU, NDI, Madeline Albright, Common wealth and whoever can say all they will their governments are not about to impose sanctions on Nigeria (not while the oil is still flowing) and their businesses are not going to withdraw under Yar Adua (they did not under Abacha) so it is really up to Nigerians to fight to make their interests relevant to their political dispensation as they confront an undemocratic civilian government and equally non democratic opposition political parties whose only ideology is `its our turn to chop`

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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