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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Analysis: Nigeria's one-party creep

By Joseph Winter
BBC News Online correspondent in Abuja

Assessing Nigeria's elections depends on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty.

Official collects ballot boxes in Warri, Niger-Delta
Official collects ballot boxes in Warri, Niger-Delta
Those with a positive outlook point to the absence of the widespread violence which some had feared could split the country along religious lines.

The sight of long lines of Nigerians waiting patiently for the right to choose their leaders was certainly a heartening one in a country with a long history of military rule.

But cynics concentrate on the electoral flaws, especially in the southern, oil-producing Niger Delta region.

Here, after long delays and sporadic violence, official results gave President Olusegun Obasanjo more than 90% of the vote.

It would be a disaster for Nigeria if military rule were to be replaced with effective one-party rule
In some Local Government Areas or constituencies, where some 80,000 votes were recorded, every single thumb-print was placed next to the umbrella symbol of his People's Democratic Party (PDP).

In Brass, Bayelsa State, not a single spoilt paper was recorded out of 73,706 votes despite the complexity of the election in a country where many people are unable to read and write.

When I was in the Niger Delta for the parliamentary elections, several different people made similar reports from different parts of the region.

Local PDP heavyweights, who invariable held senior posts in the local councils or para-statal bodies, would seize the ballot boxes and papers and take them off to a nearby government building.

There, they would spend the day "thumb-printing" the ballot papers for the PDP.

'Improbable' returns

The United States-based International Republican Institute also cites irregularities in the central Nasarawa State, where some polling stations closed early and gave 100% of their votes to a single party.

The US National Democratic Institute witnessed "vandalised, stolen and stuffed ballot boxes" in some areas.

The European Union observers are still compiling their report but delegation head Max van den Berg told BBC News Online that he was "very concerned".

In contrast, African observers have tended to emphasise the general peaceful nature of the poll and the determination of people to vote.

One election expert said that, while the results from part of the south were "improbable", analysis of the scores elsewhere showed that any manipulation had been on a small scale.

He said results from the rest of the country were credible.

Some point out that the Niger Delta is plagued by violence whether there are elections or not.

Local PDP activists may in fact have been more concerned with the state governor elections. All nine Niger Delta governors are from the PDP and all were seeking re-election.

Opposition fury

Political office is one of the best ways of making money in Nigeria, especially in oil-producing areas, and maybe they did not want to take any chances of losing their lucrative jobs?

Mr Obasanjo would probably have won even if some local PDP officials had not been so determined to ensure his party's victory, albeit with a slightly reduced margin of victory.

Opposition supporters cheer in Warri, Niger-Delta
How the opposition takes the results is all-important
Some say that the irregularities from some parts of the country have taken the shine off his victory and could erode public confidence in the political process.

The opposition is furious about the conduct of the poll and there is still the possibility that the "mass protests" they have threatened could turn violent.

Sam Nda-Isai, a spokesman for second-placed candidate Muhammadu Buhari, described the elections as "a joke".

"They have announced the elections for areas where no election took place," he said.

Nigerian newspapers have quoted influential former military ruler Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida as urging the losers to accept defeat.

He is a Muslim from the north, where opposition support is concentrated and this may serve to cool tempers.

Senior PDP official Waziri Mohammed denied the allegations of vote-rigging: "We are poised to win, so we have no need to engage in fraud."

He spoke frankly about the advantages of incumbency but saw it as only natural that those already in office get more media coverage and security than the opposition.

PDP juggernaut

Travelling around the country, I have been struck that even in the smallest hamlet, there is often a brand-new mud hut, which is the local PDP office.

In cities, the PDP operates out of large new buildings - illustrating that the ruling party has no shortage of money.

The PDP is only five years old and already it is spreading its tentacles throughout Nigeria's public life
This organisation network gives it a huge advantage at election time.

Many PDP officials also hold influential posts at various levels of government or in para-statals.

The PDP is only five years old and already it is spreading its tentacles throughout Nigeria's public life.

One significant development of these elections is how the PDP has swept the south-west, which four years ago was dominated by the Alliance for Democracy.

But the north has held out and voted solidly for Mr Buhari and his All Nigeria People's Party.

For the moment, this should keep the PDP juggernaut in check.

It would be a disaster for Nigeria if military rule were to be replaced with effective one-party rule, where only one party wins elections and so becomes a gravy-train for those on the inside.


NIGERIA'S ELECTION

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