Nigeria: Failed elections, failing state?


Africa Report N°126


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.


To the Government of President Umaru Yar'Adua:

1. Reach out to the opposition to form an inclusive government of national unity, in which all major parties are represented, and not by co-opted individuals but rather by their own official nominees.

2. Provide tribunals considering election appeal petitions the logistical and administrative assistance they need to function effectively and respect their judgments, including ultimately, as may be, those of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

3. Establish an independent inquiry to identify responsibility for fraudulent electoral practices and a judicial inquiry into political violence and other violations of human rights committed during the election period.

4. Dismiss the present leadership of INEC immediately in order to clear the way for a proper probe of its activities and defuse public outrage over its performance.

5. Restrain security services, including the Nigeria Police Force, from using disproportionate measures, including force, against groups and individuals protesting peacefully including by street demonstrations.

To the Senate:

6. Institute a judicial inquiry into INEC's financial management to determine the extent to which mismanagement, corruption and other financial improprieties contributed to failure of the elections, and to identify those responsible.

7. Initiate a process for fundamental and comprehensive reform of the electoral framework, institutions and procedures, with clear benchmarks and a timeframe for implementation.

8. While remaining committed to the anti-corruption campaign, set a three-month moratorium on arrests by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to allow thorough review of its role in the April elections, clarify its functions and powers, and establish criteria for prosecution and an abuse oversight mechanism.

To the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC):

9. Make available without delay to parties and candidates seeking redress of abuses all documents and other materials needed to support their petitions to the electoral tribunals.

10. Publish the detailed, state-by-state breakdown of votes cast for each candidate at the presidential elections.

11. Publish detailed reports on management of election funds, with special regard to compliance with due process and prudent practice in letting contracts.

To the United Nations, U.S. and European Union:

12. Give material and technical aid to assist the election tribunals, including ultimately, if need be, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, to adjudicate in a transparent, timely and independent manner.

13. Support establishment of independent inquiries to identify responsibility for fraudulent practices, political violence and other violations of human rights committed during the election period.

14. Encourage Nigerian authorities to set clear benchmarks for electoral reforms and a timeframe for implementation, by making them conditions for any assistance in future polls.

To the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS):

15. Engage with the new administration to encourage it to pursue electoral justice and redress, and to promote policies of inclusiveness, reconciliation and peacebuilding.

To the Opposition Parties and Candidates:

16. Work with the new government to ensure that future elections are conducted by a genuinely independent electoral commission and that all electoral processes are free, fair and transparent.

To Civil Society Groups:

17. Sustain and strengthen their oversight role with regard to the election tribunals, prosecution of officials charged with corruption and comprehensive electoral reform, including overhaul of INEC.

Dakar/Brussels, 30 May 2007