Next in Nigeria

AS DEMOCRACY faced one of its bitter tests in Africa this week, the outcome predictably hasn’t been impressive. It’s not only that violence marred the parliamentary and presidential elections in Nigeria, killing over 200 people, but also that complaints of malpractices, including rigging, were widespread.

All of which, anyway, were only to be expected in the context of the prevailing lawlessness in much of Africa. Yet, it is an irony that this oil-rich nation’s first formal transfer of power from one elected leader to the next should be clouded in confusion and marred by violence, in as much that the Opposition has genuine reasons to reject the final verdict. This, thus, could be the starting point for more troubles, as this election process failed to carry conviction, both within the country and outside, as is clear from the critical verdict that came from the international poll observers who monitored the polls.

That the start of the presidential election voting was delayed by two hours on account of the election panel’s failure to distribute ballot papers on time —the explanation being that it was delayed in its arrival from South Africa — itself was indication that the process was flawed, if not largely disorganised.

Under the circumstances, how effective will be the new dispensation, led by Umaru Yar’Adua, who will step into the shoes of President Olusegun Obasanjo? His vow to fight corruption, and his record of financial prudence while as governor of one of Nigeria’s northern states, are good signs, indeed, but his will not be an easy task. This, considering the overall scenario, in which the leading elite have ganged up to loot as high as 212 billion pounds in oil revenues from the exchequer.

The Obasanjo era, that heralded the end of the four decades of army rule, has had its positive impacts on the 130-million population, as the economy grew 8 per cent and systems began taking some shape. Yet, the job remains largely undone. While Nigeria is the world’s sixth largest oil exporter, most of its people live in poverty, a situation leading to public upheavals and anarchy in some oil-producing states. The new leadership will have its hands full; and perform it must, despite the odds.

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