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Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 10:08 GMT
Analysis: Nigeria's challenging poll
Nigerians vote in 1999
The vote will be the first under civilian rule for 20 years

On 19 April 2003, Nigerians are due to go to the polls to elect a head of state to lead the country for the next four years.

On the same day, elections for the governors of the 36 states of the federation are also to be held.

Election schedule
Registration officials
12 April, 2003: federal parliament
19 April: presidential and state governors
3 May: regional assemblies
26th, 29 April: Possible presidential run-offs
It will be the first time in almost 20 years that elections have been held by a civilian government.

The last occasion, in 1983, was widely regarded to have been deeply flawed, and was followed after only a few months by a military takeover.

Civilian rule only returned in 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a former military leader in the late 1970s, was elected president.

He is now seeking a second civilian term of office.

Crumbling support

When he was elected four years ago, Mr Obasanjo's victory was in large measure due to the support of the Muslim north - despite the fact that he is a Christian and from the south-west.

Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo has lost support in the north
But during his term in office, he has lost much of that northern support, and many influential northern power brokers have placed their backing behind an alternative Muslim candidate from the north, Muhammadu Buhari.

Buhari, a former military leader in the early 1980s, has been nominated as the presidential candidate for the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP).

Mr Obasanjo also has to deal with challengers from the east of the country, many of whose politicians feel that north and south-west have had their turn at the presidency and that it is now time for a head of state from the east.

In this regard, Mr Obasanjo has already seen off the challenge of Alex Ekwueme, an easterner and former vice-president, for the PDP nomination.

And although there are other eastern candidates standing for some of the smaller parties, these should pose little real threat to the main candidates.

Most well known of these eastern candidates is Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, the former leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra.

He led the east in a secessionist war between 1967-70 but perhaps ironically, is now campaigning for the presidency of the Nigerian federation.

He has been nominated as the candidate for the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).

Also competing for the presidency are at least two other easterners: a retired military intelligence officer, Ike Nwachukwu for the NDP; and James Nwobodo for the UNPP, a former eastern governor.

Powder keg

Conflict, intimidation and fraud have marred previous polls in Nigeria, and this time round there have already been violent incidents at some political rallies, as well religious violence in the north of the country that many observers see as having political elements.

Ibrahim Babangida
Former military ruler Babangida still pulls some strings
Indeed, far from bringing stability to Nigeria, the last four years of democratic rule have seen high levels of localised conflict.

During the tenure of the current civilian administration, more than 10,000 people are known to have lost their lives in outbreaks of communal and religious violence.

The regional diversity of the presidential candidates, and particularly the north-south religious divide highlighted by the participation of a southern Christian (Obasanjo) and a northern Muslim (Buhari) as the two main candidates, could also lead to an unpredictable and potentially violent period ahead of the elections.

Huge task

The election schedule itself is extremely ambitious, and one that even the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is concerned does not have the resources to undertake successfully.

With an estimated 60 million voters, and with as many as 30 parties now expected to take part, even the most efficient of electoral bodies would have its work cut out.

PREVIOUS ELECTIONS
1979: General Obasanjo returns power to civilian government after election
1983: Elections under civilian rule but military coup by end of year
1993: Elections under military rule, but then annulled
1999: Obasanjo elected to head civilian government.

Large numbers of potential voters have already found themselves disenfranchised because of a lack of blank forms at local registration centres when the much delayed exercise was finally undertaken in September, 2002.

At the time, INEC blamed unscrupulous members of its own organisation for both hoarding and selling the forms.

The performance of INEC so far has not inspired much confidence.

The difficulties it has faced have been compounded by consistently delayed funding from the federal government.

This has undoubtedly contributed to the slow and disorganised preparation for the polls, particularly of the voters roll itself.

Accepting that there had been major shortcomings with the exercise, INEC agreed to hold a further registration exercise in January. Hanging over the organisation of this highly complex poll is the knowledge that no civilian administration in Nigeria has ever conducted a successful election, or at least one for which the results have been allowed to stand for more than a few months.

On the last occasion in 1983, the army launched a coup three months after the election.

But on the positive side this time is the fact that whatever the flaws in the process, there are few signs that the military are itching to return to power.

Although cynics would point out that as four of the presidential contenders are former generals, then in a very real sense men with close ties to the military still rule Nigeria.


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See also:

20 Dec 02 | Africa
03 Dec 02 | Africa
17 Sep 02 | Africa
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