Nigeria: A New Dawn?

By Taiwo Adisa, 7 December 1998

Lagos — Will the first in the series of the elections in the new transition programme bring forth a new political culture? Nigerians went to the polls Saturday, 5 December, in the first of the series of elections meant to terminate military rule on 29 May 1999.

These elections have been roundly accepted as crucial and of paramount significance to the transition programme. First, at least six parties may be de-registered going by the regulations made public by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in November.

INEC had first said that parties must secure at least 10 per cent of votes in 24 states of the federation before they are finally granted full registration. That was scaled down to five per cent, after a meeting with the political parties.

Apart from that, there is the likelihood of bandwagon effects in voting patterns as witnessed in the last transition programme instituted by the late Gen. Sani Abacha. Many are insinuating that the winning party in the 5 December election may just go ahead to win all other elections will little effort.

Such fear was further reinforced 2 December, by the South-West secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alani Akinde. He told The News that the party had prepared for the election and mobilised all its arsenal in order to emerge victorious to reap a “bandwagon effect.” Unlike the Abacha transition, the present one seems to a widespread support from Nigerians.

Significantly, a broad spectrum of opposition elements has joined hands with the military in midwifing this transition programme. “I think that the electoral commission is preparing to conduct a credible election,” said Clement Nwankwo of the Constitutional Rights Project, one of the bodies that had concluded plans to monitor the elections independently.

Opposition figures, such as Chief Bola Ige and Senator Abraham Adesanya rallied support for their party, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) at many campaign meetings all through last week. Last week, a team of independent monitors led by former American president, Jimmy Carter arrived the country in an effort to lend international support and credibility for the election.

Many foreign journalists have also arrived the country for independent coverage of the polls. Despite the enthusiasm from the international community, a thick cloud hung over the conduct of the election in many communities.

A major problem was the failure of INEC to properly account for 20 million of the 60 million voters cards it printed for the voters registration which took place last September. In the process of registering eligible voters, many ended up disenfranchised as they could not procure cards during the stipulated days.

That led to trading of blames which only calmed down recently. The Alliance for Democracy which came out boldly to challenge INEC said many moneybags had procured the cards, to use them to influence election results in their favour.

Last Wednesday, reports indicated that the polls may not take place in the crisis-torn oil town of Warri where an ethnic conflict persists over the location of the headquarters of a council. The army deployed 500 soldiers to maintain peace, while the police had 3,000 men on standby.

The Federated Niger Delta Izon Communities (FNDIC), leading the Ijaw people vowed to disrupt the election. Oboko Bello, secretary of the FNDIC said the mobilisation of security men will not deter his men.

He told newsmen in Asaba that ” it is foolish for the Federal Government to think that we will allow local government elections to take place when the local government promised us has not been created.” In Ife-Modakeke, another war-torn community, peace was uncertain in spite of General Abubakar’s promise to resolve the issues tearing the communities apart. Late November, the Asiwaju of Ile-Ife, Chief Orayemi Orafidiya told the government that the promise of a separate local government to Modakeke will not resolve the crisis.

Though elections may take place here as the Ogunsua of Modakeke had ordered his people to participate in the transition program, it would have to be done under strict security watch. Jostling for the 774 councils in the country are three major parties, Alliance for Democracy, All Peoples Party and the Peoples Democratic Party.

Of all, the PDP appears to be the strongest, in terms of the parade of political heavy weights and financial muscles. The PDP will be given a stiff competition by the APP, derided by Nigerians as the Abacha People’s Party.

The latter assembles most of the politicians that supported the self-succession scheme of General Sani Abacha and has budgeted N2 billion for the council election. AD rests its case on the principled opposition of its members to military rule.

It may not fare well in a poll that will be influenced by money. Alhaji M.D. Yusufu, presidential aspirant of the Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJ), however, has a ready answer to the apprehensions on money politics: “People are not stupid. We hope that at the end of the day, people will take the money, because it is their money and make their own choice.”

Publication Date: 14 December,1998

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