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Nigeria’s April Elections Will Alter Trajectory of Democracy in Nigeria and Africa, Says CFR Report

Related Bio: Robert I. Rotberg
April 4, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations


Evolution from Military Dictatorship to Stable, Sustained Democracy Critical to the Region

“For policymakers everywhere, Nigeria should be the central African question. No country’s fate is so decisive for the continent. No other country across a range of issues has the power so thoroughly to shape outcomes elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. If Nigeria works well, so might Africa. If the democratic experiment in Nigeria stalls, and development and governance stagnate, the rest of Africa suffers and loses hope,” concludes a new Council Special Report.

Four salient factors underscore U.S. and international interests in Nigeria: first, “Nigeria’s sizable production of petroleum” (3.22 percent of world output and 8.5 percent of all U.S. imports); second, Nigeria as a “committed Muslim land” raises questions about Islamism and potential sanctuaries for global terrorists; third, from a health security vantage point, “what infects Nigerians [including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and measles] potentially endangers all of Africa and the world;” and fourth, “Nigeria has abundant economic potential,” including the fastest growing telecommunications market and a thriving stock market, explains author Robert I. Rotberg of Harvard University.

“The first and most important challenge facing Nigeria concerns this year’s scheduled presidential, parliamentary, and gubernatorial elections in April,” says the report, Nigeria: Elections and Continuing Challenges. [Gubernatorial and state assembly elections take place on April 14; the general election is on April 21.] “Nigeria’s 2003 vote was marred by innumerable instances of fraud, rigging, miscounting, and general misfeasance. Because Nigeria’s stability and growth as a democracy will be assisted by a more free election in 2007, the United States, [European Union], United Kingdom, and all well-meaning Nigerians should employ every possible kind of influence on Nigerian officials to ensure the holding of credible elections on schedule in April.”

“Despite oil wealth, despite its vast human capacity…Nigeria is still a poor, struggling country, even by the standards of its continent,” notes the report. Nigeria faces serious problems, including corruption, internal unrest, an HIV/AIDS epidemic, and a struggling economy. Before Nigeria can begin to achieve its national potential, it must overcome several hurdles—namely, “holding free, fair, and credible…national elections this April, institutionalizing the fledgling steps toward improved governance and transparency begun in the past eight years [under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration], and delivering a modicum of political goods to its citizens in all parts of the country.”

The report, produced by the Council’s Center for Preventive Action, suggests immediate and medium-term courses of action for Nigerians and members of the international community. Some policy recommendations, such as election monitoring, are focused on helping Nigeria avoid a near-term breakdown of democracy. Others, such as strengthening health-care infrastructure and improving security, look more broadly to the future and tackle the country’s fundamental challenges of governance and development. The report also recommends: “A rapid injection of democracy and governance funding to assist the Nigerian government in strengthening civil society and accountability before, during, and after the election season;” and  “A high-level forum—a U.S.-Nigeria Commission modeled on the U.S.-China, U.S.-India, and U.S.-Brazil commission models—should be established by Congress to encourage regular dialogue between senior American and Nigerian officials and businessmen.”

Robert I. Rotberg is president of the World Peace Foundation and director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He was previously a professor of political science and history, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; academic vice president, Tufts University; and president, Lafayette College.

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