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. 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 politicallymotivated 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.