Nigeria’s Elections: Avoiding a Political Crisis
Nigeria’s Elections: Avoiding a Political Crisis
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 123 / Africa

Nigeria’s Elections: Avoiding a Political Crisis

Nigeria’s democracy faces a crucial test. Presidential, parliamentary and state gubernatorial and assembly elections scheduled for 14 and 21 April 2007 are not a routine quadrennial ritual. Success would offer the country the first opportunity to achieve a genuine constitutional succession from one civilian administration to another since independence in 1960, thus consolidating democracy.

Executive Summary

Nigeria’s democracy faces a crucial test. Presidential, parliamentary and state gubernatorial and assembly elections scheduled for 14 and 21 April 2007 are not a routine quadrennial ritual. Success would offer the country the first opportunity to achieve a genuine constitutional succession from one civilian administration to another since independence in 1960, thus consolidating democracy. Failure could provoke violent rejection of the results by wide sections of the populace, denial of legitimacy and authority to the new government, intensification of the insurgency in the Niger Delta and its possible extension to other areas, with potential for wider West African destabilisation. The preparatory phases have indicated failings in terms of basic fairness for the opposition, transparency and respect for the rule of law. Unless stakeholders make urgent efforts to rescue the credibility of the process, Nigeria’s already serious internal instability could be fatally aggravated.

The first threat to the process is President Olusegun Obasanjo’s attempts to impose a successor by excluding strong candidates such as Vice President Atiku Abubakar, through intimidation, judicial proceedings and politically-motivated corruption charges. His effort to hold on to power has antagonised the political establishment and divided leaders of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who counted on an open succession contest to satisfy their ambitions. The resulting frustrations propelled establishment heavyweights into opposition and increased the ferocity of a campaign marred by violence, bribery and corruption.

Even more worrying for electoral credibility is Obasanjo’s tight leash on the finances of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), his direct influence on senior officials in charge of administering the process, the use of security services to intimidate opposition and the doubts raised over the validity of the voter registration exercise. There is a high risk the president, who has declared the election a “do or die affair for the PDP”, will try to obtain a victory through intimidation and large-scale rigging, resulting in a violent challenge of the results by the opposition. If the PDP loses, he could be tempted to suspend the constitution.

Such a crisis might not necessarily lead to a new military coup but would definitely undermine state authority and exacerbate long-term instability. In the Niger Delta, where militant groups demanding regional control of oil resources are already stepping up their anti-government insurgency, rigged elections would diminish any opportunity for peaceful settlement and improved governance.

Nigeria’s fragile stability is in the balance. Too many of its elections have led to dramatic crises and military take-overs. The Obasanjo presidency has recorded impressive achievements, including significant economic reforms and foreign debt reduction. He has championed democracy across Africa and mediated some of its most difficult conflicts. But he now needs to commit to a free and fair electoral process at home to save Nigeria from decline and risk of collapse. Ethnic and religious conflicts have already caused over 15,000 deaths and displaced more than three million during his presidency. Successful and credible elections also require immediate and pro-active national, regional and wider international involvement to guard against electoral violence and manipulation.

Dakar/Brussels, 28 March 2007

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