Nigeria: Failed Elections, Failing State?
Nigeria: Failed Elections, Failing State?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 126 / Africa

Nigeria: Failed Elections, Failing State?

Nigeria’s democracy is in crisis. The April 2007 elections were supposed to move the country to a higher rung on the democratisation ladder, create a more conducive environment to resolve its many internal conflicts and strengthen its credentials as a leading peacemaker, but instead generated serious new problems that may be pushing it further towards the status of a failed state.

Executive Summary

Nigeria’s democracy is in crisis. The April 2007 elections were supposed to move the country to a higher rung on the democratisation ladder, create a more conducive environment to resolve its many internal conflicts and strengthen its credentials as a leading peacemaker, but instead generated serious new problems that may be pushing it further towards the status of a failed state. The declared winner, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, assumed the presidency on 29 May with less legitimacy than any previously elected president and so with less capacity to moderate and resolve its violent domestic conflicts. He must act urgently to heal wounds, redress electoral injustice and punish the most grievous voting frauds, including those by officials of the agencies directly involved in administering the elections. To salvage his government’s legitimacy, he needs to pursue policies of inclusiveness and restraint in relation to the opposition, accept the decisions of the tribunals (including the Supreme Court if need be) reviewing the petitions of defeated candidates, and embark on a vigorous electoral reform program.

The elections, in the view of Nigerians and the many international observers alike, were the most poorly organised and massively rigged in the country’s history. In a bitterly contentious environment, outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) acted with unbridled desperation to ensure sweeping, winner-take-all victories, not only in the presidency and federal legislature but also in state governorships and assemblies. Characterised as a “do or die” battle by Obasanjo, the campaigns and elections also witnessed extensive violence, including over 200 people killed.

Widespread electoral malpractice and the staggering scale of falsified results were possible because of serious shortcomings within the regulatory agencies, most notably the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Vigorously manipulated by the presidency, INEC virtually abdicated its responsibility as impartial umpire. Inefficient and non-transparent in its operations, it became an accessory to active rigging. Similarly, the massively deployed police and other security services helped curb violence but largely turned blind eyes to, and in some cases helped in, the brazen falsification of results.

INEC declared a landslide for Yar’Adua with 70 per cent of the votes, to 18 per cent for Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). That victory is bitterly disputed by many Nigerians, however, including broad-based labour, religious and civil society groups. It has pushed the country further towards a one-party state and diminished citizen confidence in electoral institutions and processes. Most ominously, it has undermined Nigeria’s capacity to manage its internal conflicts, deepening already violent tensions in the Niger Delta and refuelling Biafran separatism in the ethnically Ibo south east. It has also badly damaged the country’s international image and Obasanjo’s legacy as a statesman, thus diminishing their credibility to serve as leading forces for peace and democracy throughout West Africa.

Yar’Adua was sworn into office amid subdued protests but he faces a giant challenge to pull Nigeria back from the brink of chaos, and he begins with his reputation grievously wounded by the process that brought him to power.

Dakar/Brussels, 30 May 2007

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