Obasanjo's Tainted Victory

The buildup to the April elections in Nigeria was tense. Nervous citizens flooded embassies to obtain visas, withdrew money from banks, and stockpiled food. Many feared there would be civil unrest—or possibly even a military coup—following Nigeria’s first civilian-run presidential poll in 20 years.

In the weeks preceding the election, a spate of politically motivated killings—including that of Marshall Harry, a prominent member of the main opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP)—led to fears that the elections would be disrupted by violence. In fact, though, the April 12 National Assembly elections and the April 19 presidential poll were conducted more peacefully than expected. But, as an April 28 editorial in This Day noted, “Having peaceful elections is totally different from having free and fair elections.” On April 22, when incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was declared the victor in the presidential election, the ANPP refused to accept the results, alleging widespread rigging by the PDP.

International observers agreed that many results were suspicious. In Obasanjo’s home state, Ogun, the president scored 99.2 percent of the votes. Another state, Rivers, recorded a stratospheric 99.5-percent turnout. For many Nigerians, the fact that exit polls recorded a solid majority for Obasanjo did not take away the bad taste left by the ballot stuffing. “Some of the irregularities are so brazen that not a few Nigerians believe votes were just arbitrarily awarded in some back room by the enforcers of the ruling party,” wrote This Day (April 28).

The PDP’s ostentatious celebration of the results added insult to injury for some commentators. “The state and the ruling party…[organized] a victory treat at a time [when] the election tribunals were being inaugurated. Such crass misjudgments lead to hardening of the opposition and viscerally denigrate the integrity of the judicial system,” wrote Paul Odili in Vanguard (May 8).

But the opposition ANPP, led by former military dictator Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, came in for criticism too. Following a call by the ANPP Presidential Campaign Organization for election results to be canceled in 19 states, Kayode Samuel noted in This Day (May 9), “Instructively, none of these states returned an ANPP victory, suggesting that wrongdoing took place only in those states where ANPP did not win. Of course, wherever [the] ANPP won, the elections must have been conducted by angels!”

Despite the irregularities, however, many editorialists called for the country to move on from the election’s acrimony in the interests of national unity. “Politicians should desist from making inciting statements that would bring violence….This critical time in our political development requires the spirit of give-and-take and forbearance to ensure that the country consolidates the gains of the current civilian-to-civilian transition,” wrote Ausbeth Ajagu in Vanguard (May 7).

Writing in The News (April 28), Ademola Adegbamigbe agreed, warning: “If we fail to transit successfully this time, the trek up the mountain of democracy will be excruciating, and we will remain everlasting Sisyphuses.”