Widespread allegations of vote rigging, intimidation, and outright violence dashed hopes of a clean election in Nigeria, leading the country's largest election monitoring group to demand they be annulled (BBC). Opposition parties denounced the vote and blamed the governing party, while the government hinted at fears of a coup (AP).
No one was expecting Nigeria’s elections to be completely free and fair. But the violence and vote rigging (IHT) documented across the country during gubernatorial elections on Saturday dashed hopes that the polls would be legitimate. Ballot boxes were stuffed with votes in favor of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, voting did not take place at all in several parts of the Niger Delta, and thugs beat up opposition party officials in Oyo state, according to a Human Rights Watch news release, based on accounts from journalists and election observers on the scene. Some—including a coalition of local electoral observers, an EU team, and several senior government officials—have called for those elections to be invalidated and rerun.
Most Nigerians and international observers fear the troubled gubernatorial elections foreshadow a volatile presidential election (ElectionGuide), which many had hoped would usher in a period of stability for Africa’s most populous country. François Grignon, Africa director of the International Crisis Group, urges the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to “address its serious organizational lapses” and “show full transparency and impartiality (allAfrica.com) in addressing the many controversies that are arising from the voting.”
But INEC’s handling of a controversial Supreme Court decision this week, as well as its bungling of the election process from voter registration through party primaries, raises questions about its competence. In an eleventh-hour ruling, the Supreme Court declared April 16 that Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a top opposition leader and rival to President Olusegun Obasanjo, has the right to run (LAT) in the presidential elections. INEC had previously disqualified Atiku and several other opposition candidates accused of corruption. The 61 million presidential ballots were printed without his name, and INEC has not stated how the problem will be resolved before the vote. Nigeria’s This Day reports there is conflict within INEC over whether to print new ballot papers and delay the poll. A coalition of eighteen opposition parties is also calling for a postponement and threatening to boycott (Reuters) the elections.
Perhaps the only person unconcerned—at least publicly—about the trajectory of events in Nigeria is Obasanjo. In an interview with the Financial Times on April 16, he said “It’s not by any means a perfect election but there is no human arrangement you can describe as perfect until when we get to God and eternity. Whatever we do is relative and I believe it is relatively good enough.”
A new Council Special Report on Nigeria warns that even if presidential elections occur, Obasanjo’s successor will not have the same strong domestic and international standing. As a result, it says, “effective leadership for change will be wanting.” Though Nigeria’s institutions have improved under Obasanjo, corruption is still endemic and many government entities are politicized, explains this new Backgrounder. The Economist argues that the ruling party’s struggle to maintain power has discredited so many of Nigeria’s institutions that the country “now seems more a prisoner of its bleak past than a beacon for the future.”