Friday, April 27, 2007

Can Nigeria go Orange?

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After European Union and other monitors condemn Nigeria's landmark elections as seriously flawed, we ask if "People Power" or outside pressure could force a re-run.

Nigerian opposition politicians have been looking abroad for inspiration in their battle to have the presidential and state elections repeated.

As a legal challenge was being mooted, one spokesman called for replicating the kind of revolutions seen in Ukraine and the Philippines.

Mass protests at the rigging of Ukraine's November 2004 presidential election sparked the Orange Revolution which did indeed produce a re-run, won by charismatic opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

In the first place, there is no obvious Yushchenko figure for the whole of the country, Nigerian newspaper commentator Tunde Fagbenle points out.

"None of the opposition candidates can be said to command enough national support to dominate," he told the BBC News website.

"I don't think anybody is ready to go on the street and die for any politician at this point," he says, though he notes that at the level of the individual states, things are different, because people there feel the elections affected them personally.

There may be a gentle rap over the knuckles but forget sanctions
Patrick Smith
editor of UK-based Africa Confidential magazine.

"The capital, Abuja, is new and not very heavily populated," notes Richard Dowden, executive director of the Royal African Society.

"You can't bring it to a standstill. The only place where that could be effective is Lagos and it would not have any impact on the people in Abuja."

"Yes, people do feel robbed of their vote but there is a stronger feeling of weariness that no politician is different from any other," he says.

"Five days later people want to get on with their lives."

With the White House calling the elections "deeply flawed" and the EU pronouncing them "not credible", could foreign pressure on the government produce a repeat ballot where popular pressure fails?

Mr Fagbenle says the Commonwealth and other institutions defer to outgoing Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo because of his peacekeeping work and he will stay in the wings for "his man", President-elect Umaru Yar'Adua.

"If America dares to play a strong hand, you can bet it will be reminded of its own recent electoral history with Bush and Gore [the "hanging chad" scandal in the 2000 presidential election]," he adds.

Mr Dowden also doubts there will be any sanctions, simply because it is difficult to hurt Nigeria.

"It is not Malawi," he says.

"You can't take their aid away because there isn't any. It's such a huge, powerful country that there is very little leverage that either the Commonwealth or Britain could deploy against Nigeria, and Nigeria is too powerful for other Africans to criticise.

"Nor do I think the Americans will make too much fuss about this because of the oil and Nigeria's strategic significance."

Certainly, Tunde Fagbenle can only express disgust with the "national shame" they brought.

The example of Madagascar shows it is possible for Africa to stand up against flawed elections
Jude Kirkham
BBC News website reader, Vancouver, Canada

"It is like every election is trying to outdo the last one in depravity and corruption so I don't see any redeeming value at all," he says.

Mr Smith nonetheless detects "high hopes that the new administration will be a much more conciliatory one than its predecessor".

Both he and Richard Dowden predict a period of horse-trading between the official winners and losers.

They are members of an elite, Mr Dowden says, who "shout at each other quite a lot but in fact never push it to extremes... because they have too much to lose".

In Nigeria, he adds, "the ordinary people don't matter and are all but completely ignored during the election - there is no reason why that voice should be heard so they don't have much leverage".

But it may not always be so, the Royal African Society director adds, because in the 2007 elections Nigeria's professional middle classes "came and voted for the first time".

In polls to come, he says, "they won't side with the elite but with the people".

You would be mighty surprised, good buddy, at how much things and times have changed in Nigeria... I can only hope that for you it would be quite a pleasant surprise.

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