Nigeria’s first attempt since independence in 1960 to transfer power from one civilian government to another has just ended – farcically. Indeed, the presidential election degenerated into a crude exercise in ballot rigging and voter intimidation.
As a result, the victory of Umaru Yar’Adua, the candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and President Olusegun Obasanjo’s hand-picked successor, is now hotly disputed. The major opposition candidates – Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Patrick Utomi of the African Democratic Party (ADP), Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress (AC), and Orji Uzor Kalu of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) – reject the results and are calling on Nigerians to protest peacefully. Both local and Western election monitors have said that the poll fell far below acceptable standards.
Although American officials had said that the United States would not support Obasanjo if the election were flawed, it was an open secret long before polling began that the PDP would manipulate the outcome to remain in power. Obasanjo made it clear that he considered the election a “do or die affair” and would hand over power only to Yar’Adua. Even so, the scale and brazenness of the fraud were unprecedented, indicating Obasanjo’s desperation.
Obasanjo is understandably anxious. Last May, the National Assembly slapped down his attempt to re-write the constitution in order to remain in office beyond the stipulated two terms. His effort to use corruption charges to exclude from the election his vice president, Atiku Abububar, with whom he had been feuding since 2004, also failed when the Supreme Court ruled that Abububar’s name had to be restored to the ballot.