Democracy’s Challenge in Nigeria
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RAY SUAREZ: Last week, Nigerians gave their president, Olusegun Obasanjo, four more years.
PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, Nigeria: I have been formally declared by the authorized body, who so declared. I am the president, and that is not in doubt.
RAY SUAREZ: But the fairness of the election was in doubt. Obasanjo’s landslide victory of 67 percent came amid widespread allegations of vote-rigging. And that’s raised fears of further instability in Africa’s most populous nation.
SPOKESMAN: Chief O. Obasanjo of PDP, having satisfied the requirements of the law, has scored the highest number of votes, is hereby declared the winner and installed elected as the president of the federal Republic of Nigeria.
RAY SUAREZ: The main opponent for the Christian Obasanjo and his People’s Democratic Party was Muslim former General Muhammad Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party. Even before the final results were officially announced, the opposition was crying foul about voting irregularities and threatening mass demonstrations. The defeated Buhari and his party joined 19 other opposition groups calling for Obasanjo’s resignation and for a new vote.
MUHAMMADU BUHARI: This election is the most fraudulent Nigeria has had since independence.
RAY SUAREZ: International election monitors said they witnessed fraud in several states.
MAX VAN DEN BERG: Many instances of ballot boxing stuffing, just bluntly in the face of our observers, a lot of times even without hiding anything; changing of results and other serious irregularities.
RAY SUAREZ: But reaction on the street was mixed.
MAN ON STREET: I think Nigeria has finally come of age and this I would say is the beginning of democracy in this great nation.
WOMAN ON STREET: They rigged, they rigged and we’re not going to agree.
RAY SUAREZ: Obasanjo and his government have brushed off the charges of fraud. Chris Fomunyoh of the National Democratic Institute in Washington went to Nigeria to monitor the elections. He said despite the irregularities, there may be a silver lining.
CHRIS FOMUNYOH: That all of those candidates who lost and some of whom may have felt cheated especially in the states in which the irregularities were identified, that they are trying to follow the legal process of filing complaints with the election commission or with the election tribunals, which means that it is a commitment to be able to resolve their grievances peacefully and through the judiciary as is required by Nigerian law.
That by itself is really a step forward and a reconfirmation — a confirmation of the fact that democracy is beginning to take root. So hopefully by the time this all blows itself out, we may see a Nigeria that is stronger and better prepared to embrace or continue to move along the democratic path in a way that could be beneficial to Nigerians but also to the African continent, because we must keep in mind that one of every seven Africans is Nigerian — that Nigeria is playing a very powerful role, or seeking to play a very powerful role within the African Union, and Nigeria with an Obasanjo that’s viewed as legitimate, a government that is viewed as legitimate, and having been elected through the democratic means, stands a better chance of being able to provide that leadership than would be the case if its credibility or its democratic credentials were questionable.
RAY SUAREZ: Nigeria, about twice the size of California, is rich in natural resources. The world’s eighth largest oil producer, Nigeria is among the top six suppliers to the U.S. But for years, corrupt governments and businesses have been accused of siphoning off much of the wealth.
Today, most of Nigeria’s 129 million people live in squalor and desperate poverty. When Obasanjo, a former army general, came to office in 1999, he promised to end nearly 16 years of brutal military rule and to fight corruption with a civilian run democracy.
PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO: There will be no sacred cows. Nobody, no matter who and where, will be allowed to get away with the breach of the law or the perpetration of corruption and evil.
RAY SUAREZ: But stabilizing Nigeria has proven difficult. More than 10,000 people have died in ethnic and religious fighting since Obasanjo took office.
In the North, there have been periodic clashes between Muslims who make up about 50 percent of the population and Christians who number about 40 percent. In November, 200 people died when the two groups rioted.
The trigger for the violence was the Miss World pageant to be held last year in Lagos. A newspaper article suggested that the Prophet Mohammed would have been tempted to marry one of the contestants. The pageant was later moved to London.
Ethnic minorities in the Niger River Delta have demanded a share of the country’s oil riches. Over the past three years, impoverished locals have hacked into pipelines causing devastating explosions that have killed several hundred people. And last month, tribal battles caused a partial shutdown of the region’s oil production.
And this week, reports surfaced that striking Nigerian workers have held nearly 100 foreign oil workers, including 17 Americans, hostage aboard four offshore oil rigs like these for more than a week.
Despite Nigeria’s violent history, this month’s elections, the first to be run by civilians in two decades, were mostly peaceful. Still, Chris Fomunyoh said Obasanjo has a tough job ahead.
CHRIS FOMUNYOH: I think that if he goes through a process of recognizing that there may have been some irregularities in some of the areas, but at the same time reaching out to those candidates and the parties that lost, I think if he takes a more statesmen-like approach, that could strengthen his hand to be able to lead Nigeria forward in the next four years.
RAY SUAREZ: Obasanjo’s inauguration is set for May 29, when his first term ends.