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Last Updated: Friday, 18 April, 2003, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Nigerian polls: A personal view
London-based journalist Osasu Obayiuwana reflects on his return home to Nigeria during the hectic election campaign.

Lagos slum
For most Nigerians poverty and unemployment are the main election issues
When I told friends in London, even Nigerian ones, that I will be going home during a period predicted to be politically tumultuous, many advised extreme caution.

The months leading up to Saturday's presidential elections have chronicled a spate of political killings that provided ominous signals about the future of democracy in Africa's most populous country.

Interestingly, the intriguing - and probably most inexplicable - part of the Nigerian psyche is its fascinating capability to exude pessimism and optimism in equal measure.

Despite their stinging criticism of the present crop of politicians, ordinary Nigerians agree that a return to the dark days of military misrule provides no panacea for the glaring shortcomings of the current democratic experiment.

An impressive turnout of voters in the 12 April National Assembly polls indicates the enthusiasm of Nigerians to play an active role in their future.

Cynicism

But since arriving in the country last Saturday and conducting my own "straw poll" on the Lagos street, it's clear that unswerving belief in the integrity, financial honesty and public service commitment of elected officials is in extremely short supply amongst the cynical population.

Man casts his vote

"All that Nigerian politicians care about is how they can fill their own pockets," says Victor Adelaja, a 29 year old electrical and electronics engineering graduate from the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos.

"There is very little I have gained after four years of the current government [of president Olusegun Obasanjo] and I am not certain of my future, because nothing is certain in this country."

Unable to secure a job since graduating in 2001 - a fate afflicting the majority of graduates here - Victor was resigned to a bleak future on the unemployment line, until his cousin, a pharmacist, decided to invest over $30,000 in setting up an internet café, which he hopes to open in May.

"But for my cousin, I really don't know what I would be doing with my life now."

Amongst the young, the damning verdict is that the older generation of Nigerian politicians have bequeathed a legacy of hopelessness and destitution to them.

"The older generation of politicians have let us down. They have not shown that they care about our futures. We are really suffering. No jobs, no good housing, no good future.

"They enjoyed a lot of things in their time which we cannot dream of now," Adelaja said.

With Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari in the frontrunners seat for Aso Rock (the seat of Nigeria's federal government), many describe the elections, in the words of late musical legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, as an "army arrangement".

An overwhelming presence of ex-soldiers in Nigeria's political arena leaves me trapped in pessimism about the future of a country I deeply love (and hate).

But then, the Nigerian capacity for uncertainty might spring a pleasant surprise and fill me with the hope I most desperately seek.




WATCH AND LISTEN
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