Nigeria: As poll winner declared, crisis of legitimacy predicted

AWKA, 23 April 2007 (IRIN) - Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Monday declared the ruling party candidate the winner of Saturday's presidential election. Analysts say the new leader, if allowed to stand amidst widespread protests over the fairness of the vote, will likely face a crisis of legitimacy that will affect his administration's ability to govern and develop the country.

INEC officials said Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) won with more than 24.6 million votes compared to 6 million for Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigerian People's Party (ANPP) and 2.6 million for Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress (AC). Other candidates garnered far fewer votes.

Both Buhari and Abubakar rejected the outcome of the election and have vowed to pursue their grievances in court. Local and international observers said the presidential poll was seriously flawed. The European Union said the election was not credible and human rights monitors said at least 200 people had died in poll-related violence in recent weeks. Federal legislative polls were also held on Saturday, and state legislative and gubernatorial elections took place on 14 April.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has served for eight years, admitted to the nation in a live televised broadcast on Monday that there were problems with the elections.

"Our elections could not have been said to have been perfect," he said. "Specifically, logistical failures which resulted in voting materials arriving quite late in parts of the country inadvertently deprived some voters of their right to exercise their civic responsibility."

But many Nigerians have accused the PDP of rigging the polls. Some civic groups and politicians are mulling protest action to demand that their voices are heard.

Information Minister Frank Nweke said in a statement that opposition candidates were creating an atmosphere to precipitate a military takeover by paying people to embark on violent street protests. "In the ensuing confusion and attacks, people are to be maimed and slaughtered all in a bid to discredit the [electoral] exercise," he said.

A threat to development

After the military government in 1993 annulled the results of presidential elections as it began to appear as though opposition candidate Moshood Abiola was winning, unrest and widespread protests led by the country's powerful labour unions followed for several weeks and dozens of people died.

An interim civilian administration was established only to be toppled by the military a short time later. When that leader, Gen Sani Abacha, died in 1998 a military-led transitional government organised the elections that Obasanjo won in a poll that symbolised a new democratic future for the country.

Eight years later, analysts say, that future is in jeopardy. The widespread perception that Yar'Adua's win is illegitimate could threaten the government's ability to move forward while the nation is polarised with politics overshadowing development.

"The deficit of credibility may affect its capacity to mobilise the country as a whole to turn the energy toward rebuilding the battered infrastructure of the country," said Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, executive director of the London-based nongovernmental organisation Justice Africa. "At the time the government needs citizen engagement it may actually have citizen apathy on a mass scale. That will affect the ability of the government to deliver locally."

Saturday's election was to mark the first time in Nigeria that power would have passed from one democratically elected leader to another. Despite being Africa's top oil producer and having vast human resources, the country continues to rank toward the bottom in social indicators of the United Nations. Less than half of the country's 140 million people have access to a clean water source and health workers say water-borne diseases are on the rise. One in five children dies before the age of five.

In addition, the government faces increasing unrest in the oil-rich southern delta region, as well as simmering ethnic and religious tension that often explodes in violence. New York-based Human Rights Watch says more than 10,000 people have died in inter-communal violence in Nigeria in the past eight years alone.

Building consensus

With the growing insecurity, some people have called for a return to military rule. Yar'Adua, unlike Obasanjo, is not a former general. A former university lecturer, he is among the few Nigerian governors who is not being investigated for corruption. As governor of northern Katsina state for the past eight years, analysts say Yar'Adua built schools and roads, and strengthened social services in his state.

But his critics wonder if he will be able to implement such action on a national scale, especially if the country is being pulled apart politically. Analysts say the government will have to work hard in terms of peace building and establishing an inclusive government.

"If there is no immediate reconciliation after the elections you will have a weak government, deficient in legitimacy and in an unstable environment and therefore not at all in a position to deal with the basic problems with which the country has been contending and triggering conflict repeatedly," said Nnamdi Obasi, senior Nigeria analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Justice for all

Another key component for establishing legitimacy will be the conduct of the courts, analysts say. Scores of court cases contesting the fairness of many of the polls are anticipated and they could drag on for the next three to four years.

"The sooner these cases are addressed and the sooner they are dispelled and the more transparent the process the greater the chances are of restoring a sense of justice into the system which is necessary for legitimacy," Obasi said.

The courts have already made key rulings in the lead-up to the elections which demonstrated independence from the executive, he said, inspiring more confidence in the judiciary than any time in Nigeria's recent history.

If the efforts at reconciliation and establishing legitimacy fail, Nigeria will face problems both at home and abroad, the analysts said. Nigeria has been a regional leader, playing key roles in peacekeeping in Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

"If you have an illegitimate government that is weak then it's not in a position to act effectively in West Africa or in the rest of Africa because it is not seen as a model and its voice cannot be taken very seriously outside the Nigerian borders," Obasi said. "The international community after the elections must remain engaged with Nigeria to persuade it to move in the right direction and to do so very rapidly because time is not on its side."