Nigeria has been undemocratically ruled for many years, and it started to go into the democratic process recently. To be fair, such infant democratic experience is not to be measured with the same scale that the world measures the democratic process in the developed world. Yet, Nigeria has tried!
Despite uncertainties and large scale criticisms about the shortcomings of the presidential and National Assembly polls, Africa's most populous nation and one of the world's happiest has elected a new president.
This will result in the first civilian-to-civilian transition after a fairly stable, eight years of democratic governance, since Nigeria's 47 years of independence.
Criticisms Trail Poll Results
Nigeria's Electoral Commission, on April 23, announced presidential candidate, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar'Adua, of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the 2007 election, with over 24 million votes. Next among the 24 contestants is a former military ruler, retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari with six million votes (All Nigerian People's Party), while the Action Congress flag bearer, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, came distant third with over two million votes. This announcement has generated reactions from local and international observers, legal practitioners, as well as from opposition parties who declared that the election was neither free nor fair.
Atiku, who is from the opposition and also is the country's vice president, said in an interview that he would not accept any results. "How can anyone be declared a winner, whether myself or any other aspirant, when voting didn't occur in rural areas where 70 percent of the population lives?"
"What the electoral commission is doing is creating something symbolic in state capitals and urban centers so as to give the impression that the election was held," he said.
In a similar reaction, domestic observers under the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) described the election as so flawed that it should be cancelled and held again. Human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Gani Fawehinmi said in an interview that the election was seriously manipulated with massive irregularities. "I don't know where they got 24 million votes from. The ballot papers were not serially numbered; in most part of the states, most Nigerians were not allowed to vote; thus depriving them of their fundamental human rights. It is mild to say that it was flawed. It was more than flawed," he said.
In the wake of all this, the chief electoral officer, Professor Maurice Iwu of the electoral commission called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has congratulated Nigeria on a successful election. "The fact that this is the first time in the history of Nigeria that one democratically elected government that had spent two terms is succeeded by another, makes it eventful," he said in a national address.
"It marks a watershed in political history of the nation." He admitted that the elections were far from perfect, but compared to previous elections, it was free, fair and, credible.
"The fact that we could hold an election in spite of its imperfections and huge challenges, shows the tremendous love God had for us."
Compared to the April 14, gubernatorial and State Assembly elections, fewer Nigerians went out on April 21 to vote. There were no long queues of enthusiastic voters waiting to exercise their franchise. Political analysts have given reasons for this voters' apathy as the people's loss of confidence in the electoral body. One of the 25 presidential candidates, Rev. Chris Okotie of the Fresh Party and a clergyman, said that the reason for the low turnout is because Nigerians feel their vote will not count.
"Nigerians are not bothering themselves because they feel that the election results are already pre-calculated," Okotie said.
However, the country's electoral body refutes such claims. Iwu said at a press conference, that it is usual for local elections to attract more people than national elections. "It is a historical fact, all over the world, that local elections attract more people because whoever is elected has direct bearing on the people more than [the] presidential [post]."
Among the complaints trailing INEC's preparations are the absence of some partys' name and logo on the ballot paper, lack of serial numbers on the ballot paper, and the rescheduling of the senatorial election in six states of the country. Shortage of ballot papers and late arrival in many parts disenfranchised millions of voters from exercising their civic rights.
Though there were cases of rigging in some states, under-aged voting, and ballot box snatching, it was not as rampant as the gubernatorial and State of Assembly elections.
Meanwhile, as both foreign observer missions and Nigerians expressed their unhappiness about what they call INEC's shoddy preparation, the chairman has rated the process as a success. "If I were to rate the performance in the election, I will say we scored 80 percent," he said addressing a press conference.
According to him, a country like Nigeria with its hetero-ethnicity and complexity has tried.
"At first, everyone thought we could not hold a free and fair election, but we did. We printed 65 million ballot papers in three days, there is no country that can do that," he said.
Nigeria's president Olusegun Obasanjo, in his address a day before the election, called upon all citizens to cooperate with INEC, admitting that the April 21's election was not devoid of shortcomings as pointed out, but that no human arrangement is perfect.
Behold Nigeria's President-Elect
Alhaji Umar Musa Yar ‘Adua, hails from Katsina State, northern Nigeria. He was born in 1951 into a Muslim family, and he belongs to one of Nigeria's three major tribes, Hausa. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from the Ahamdu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. He was appointed a lecturer at Kaduna State College of Arts, Science and Technology in 1976. He was a senior lecturer and head of Department of Science and Mathematics at Katsina Polytechnic. His political career began when he was elected member in the Consistency Assembly, representing Katsina in 1988. He had held various political positions in now-defunct political parties. He is the present outgoing governor of Katsina State, where he had served two terms totaling eight years.
Few hours after being named winner of the 2007 presidential polls, Yar'Adua addressed a world press conference at the federal capital territory, Abuja, expressing his acceptance and willingness to serve the giant of Africa, Nigeria.
"I wish to express my gratitude to all Nigerians and I do solemnly pledge that I shall discharge all my duties to the utmost of my ability," he stated.
Challenges for New President
For most Nigerians, Yar'Adua's victory is no surprise.
Investigations from both lettered and unlettered persons indicated that he was going to succeed Obasanjo. Before Yar'Adua was nominated, speculations were averse that Obasanjo was going to nominate one of the governors from the south-south region of Nigeria. But their hopes were dashed when, the president, chose Yar'Adua. Some thought Yar'Adua was chosen as a compensation for his late brother, General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, a political activist who suffered and was killed in prison in democratic struggle.
Obasanjo in his diplomacy, match made him with the deputy governor of Bayelsa State (one of Nigeria's oil-rich states) in the south-south region. This is also believed to be a compensation for the clamoring of the people of this region. Throughout Nigeria's history, presidency has never swung to the people of this region. Power has remained in the hands of the Northerners and, on few occasion, the South-Westerners. Yet, over three-quarters of Nigeria's oil, which is her wealth, is from this region. Several calls for resources control and for the presidency to shift to this region have fallen on deaf ears, but the nomination of Yar'Adua brings them closer to their answer.
The unrest in the Niger Delta (the country's oil-rich region), that has led to abduction of oil expatriates, is one challenge the outgoing administration has been grappling with, with little success. The president-elect reacting to a question during his inaugural speech said that he hopes to solve this problem by working with the stakeholders.
"I hope to address the issues holistically, through the overall development plan for the region in conjunction with stakeholders."
The outgoing administration has shunned countless calls for a sovereign national conference, early in its administration time. The conference is meant to restructure the three major tribes — Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba — by dividing the wealth of the land so that each can attain autonomy. The callers, who are members of the civil society believe that Nigeria is too large to be one nation. But Obasanjo has been firm on his one-nation thrust. Though the call for the conference has been silenced, it is still a time bomb waiting to explode, which forces the incoming government to sit tight on this.
Power outage, unemployment, and fuel crisis are recurrent problems in the Obasanjo administration.
Power supply is a basic amenity that every citizen should enjoy. If they cannot afford three square meals, then at least if there is electricity, business ideas can boom. In recent times, Nigerians have been telling a tale of woe as regards power supply. Investors spend so much on fuel to run generators, because of a lack of electricity supply. It makes life harder for most citizens. This is one thing that Nigerians will be forever grateful for. Yar'Adua is laden with enormous task of solving mass youth unemployment, endemic in the country.
Nigeria has witnessed several fuel crisis due to hikes in prices of petroleum products on a near yearly basis, during the outgoing administration. Despite the fact that the country is the 6th largest oil producer in the world, its refineries are bad such that it has to export crude oil and import the refined one. This makes fuel very costly. The cost of fuel is the major cause of inflation, devaluation of the country's currency —the naira — and hardships experienced all over the land. This is going to be a key challenge for the government of Yar'Adua, and solving this problem will endear him to all Nigerians.
Provision of good federal highways is yet another demand of the masses. Transporters who cannot afford air travel waste several person-hours on the road because of bad roads. Yet the federal budget allocates huge sums of money for the reparation of these roads.
From the looks of things, Yar'Adua since being the first Nigerian president from the academia, is expected to resolve the recalcitrant strikes between the university lecturer and the federal government. Health care in Nigeria is still very poor in spite of several reform programs by the outgoing government.
The state of decay is why Nigeria ranks lowest on most health indices. Nigeria is the third largest country with the population of HIV-positive persons; it has the second largest maternal mortality rate in the world, the fourth largest infant mortality, and its life expectancy is between 45-46 years for both men and women.
Obasanjo in Yar'Adua's Clothing
Most likely, Yar'Adua might continue in Obasanjo's anti-corruption fight, which made him the enemy of many citizens, including his deputy.
Based on the controversies surrounding the election results, Yar'Adua will prove himself whether he can take Nigeria to the promised land or not. However, observers fear that with the rate at which Nigerians are going about their democracy, the nation may be turned into a one-party state, as there are no parties as strong as the PDP. Though Kayode Esuola, a lecturer of political science at the University of Lagos, condemns the irregularities of the election, he said it is a good foundation for democracy in that there are more political parties now than there were before.
"We have about 50 political parties. The more parties we have, the more it gives room for democracy."
Another fear expressed is that the next leadership will be Obasanjo in Yar'Adua's clothing. Godfatherism in Nigeria's politics has bred bad blood in past administrations. It is hoped that this will not be the case with Yar'Adua and Obasanjo. Though Yar'Adua has a calm mien, he is found to be very independent-minded.
Lastly, as the countdown towards Yar'Adua's official swearing in on May 29, 2007, to be president of the 140-million-citizen country, Nigerians truly hope for a peaceful transition and more matured democracy in future.
Last Mod: 25 Nisan 2007, 19:18
Abiose Adelaja is a journalist based in Lagos and is working for the National Daily Newspaper. Though she holds a bachelor's degree in microbiology, Adelaja is quite passionate about societal and civil issues as well as politics in development. She is a member of the World Federation of Science Journalists and has also won some awards in health (HIV/AIDS, in particular) reporting and benefited from journalism fellowships.