Nigeria's Battle of the Generals

Nigeria has never held successful civilian-run elections. The last one, which returned President Shehu Shagari and his National Party of Nigeria to power in 1983, was marked by widespread violence and vote-rigging. Three months later, the Army staged a coup--Nigeria's fifth since independence in 1960.

Governance has never been easy in Nigeria, a conglomerate of over 150 million people and some 250 ethnic or language groups. Not all share the same vision of Nigeria's future, and they are exceptionally vigorous in disputing what it should be. Civic virtue is rare. No leader can be expected to run this giant of Africa as if it were Singapore.

Nigerians once again fear that chaos will accompany the second elections since the Army returned power to civilians in May 1999. Legislative elections will be held on April 12th, followed by the presidential election a week later. Opposing President Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general seeking a second term on the platform of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), is Muhammadu Buhari, another retired general, from the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP). General Buhari led the coup against Shagari in 1983.

Two other candidates stand out. Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is an Oxford-trained historian and retired army officer who led the Biafran secessionist attempt in 1967, which plunged the country into civil war. Gani Fawehinmi, a fiery lawyer who made his name as a human rights campaigner under military rule, is the candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP). The PDP and ANPP are broadly center-right parties, while the NCP styles itself as the "party of the poor" and espouses social democratic policies.