NIGERIA: Response to flawed elections more a whimper than a bang

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Nigerian civic and opposition groups warn of an impending showdown with the government as they attempt to have the flawed presidential and regional elections annulled, although other analysts say public frustration is unlikely to turn into mass civil unrest.

“We can still expect to see people come out in the streets by the hundreds, but not by the thousands,” the head of the United Nations Development Programme’s Governance and Human Rights team in Nigeria, Sam Unom said.

For Unom the anger is already moving away from the streets to rhetoric in the editorial pages in the media. “Eventually things will end up in court where the various losing candidates will dispute the results,” he said.

Local and international independent observers of the 14 April state elections and 21 April presidential elections concurred that there were serious flaws, yet President Olusegun Obasanjo's chosen successor, Umaru Yar'Adua, was declared president-elect 23 April.

“People are definitely unhappy with the way this happened but they are reluctant to fight for what they believe in because they feel that, no matter what, only the elite benefit,” Unom said.

The police and army have also been quick to use force; some 200 people were killed in election violence in towns and cities around the country before and during the elections, according to reports.

Civil society groups nonetheless say they will still challenge the election result.

“There will be a challenge to [president-elect Umaru Yar'Adua's] legitimacy and he will try to crush that challenge." said Emma Ezeazu, leader of Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE), a coalition of civic groups that had been critical of the organisation and conduct of the elections.

"There are going to be turbulent times ahead," said Ezeazu who was arrested and questioned on Monday by the secretive state security police known as State Security Services. The police accused him of fomenting civic unrest and confiscated piles of posters they found in his office which were critical of the elections.

Other civic groups also warn of more unrest to come. "It is likely there'll be increased use of force,” Lanre Ehonwa, who heads the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria's oldest human rights group, told IRIN.

May Day protests muted
Opposition and civil society groups chose 1 May, Labour Day, to launch protest marches calling for the cancellation of the vote but, Inspector General of Police Sunday Ehindero warning repeatedly on radio and television that force would be used to quell any street protests and turnout was generally less than organizers said they expected.

On that day, armed police and soldiers could be seen in cities and towns across Nigeria. More than 300 people were arrested as security forces clashed with protesters, according to police and witnesses.

In Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos, at least 80 people at a trade union rally were arrested for distributing leaflets condemning the elections and calling for their annulment, union officials said.

And near the capital, Abuja, 235 people travelling in 30 mini-buses to join protests in the city were arrested by the police, Lawrence Alobi, the top police official for the city, told reporters.

In Daura, the home town of the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, in the north, police and soldiers battled stone-throwing demonstrators using tear gas and firing in the air, witnesses said. Police officials said at least 50 people were arrested.

Despair and apathy
"Many Nigerians were disappointed that the efforts against military rule produced the present corrupt civilian rulers," said Nigerian political commentator Lekan Adegoke. "There is a pervading sense of despair and apathy that nothing good will come out of continued protests against this government."

Opponents of the election acknowledge that the government's readiness to use force combined with widespread apathy among Nigerians that could undermine more serious protests.

In 1993 the military government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled a presidential vote widely considered to be free and fair and tried to cling to power, sparking weeks of protests in Lagos and other cities.

Although Babangida handed power over to a transitional government, which was soon pushed aside by iron-fisted Gen Sani Abacha, pro-democracy activists and civic groups continued to lead protests, helping isolate his government internationally until his death in 1998.


Source: IRIN
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