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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Could Nigeria go Orange?
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

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 voters in Port Harcourt, 21 April
Nigerians were voting on a peaceful transfer of civilian rule

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.

Nearly 20 years earlier, the concept of "People Power" had caught the world's imagination in the Philippines when peaceful mass protests ousted long-time leader Ferdinand Marcos after he claimed to have won the 1986 presidential election amid fraud allegations.

People do feel robbed of their vote but there is a stronger feeling of weariness that no politician is different from any other
Tunde Fagbenle
Nigerian newspaper commentator

But in African states, as in many emerging democracies, it is more common for leaders accused of vote-rigging to weather the storm.

The bitterly disputed election of Togo's Faure Gnassingbe as president in 2005 provoked bloody street battles while EU sanctions on Zimbabwe over the alleged rigging of the 2002 presidential and other elections have failed to sway Robert Mugabe.

However, African superpower Nigeria fits no easy pattern.

From within

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

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

"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.

Secondly, there is little cohesion between the opposition groups.

Yushchenko supporters outside parliament in Kiev 2004
In 2004 protesters pitched tents outside Ukraine's parliament in Kiev

Thirdly, there is the absence of a Kiev or Manila to be occupied by tent cities and mass rallies.

"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."

Mr Fagbenle also points out that the ethnic divisions within Africa's most populous state act against any sense of collective response, as does popular cynicism about opposition politicians, many of whom were in power before 2003.

"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."

From without

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?

The professional middle classes came and voted for the first time
Richard Dowden
executive director of the Royal African Society

"There may be a gentle rap over the knuckles but forget sanctions," says Patrick Smith, editor of UK-based Africa Confidential magazine. He points to international concern over the multi-ethnic country's stability.

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."

Nigeria's 2007 elections have been trumpeted as marking the hand-over of power by one civilian president to another in line with the constitutional limit on two terms in office, despite Mr Obasanjo's bid to have his tenure extended.

But will they go down in history as nothing more than, in Mr Smith's words, "a way of getting from one civilian regime to another without major social disruption"?

Class consciousness

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".

Your comments

The example of Madagascar [the Ravalomanana-Ratsiraka confrontation of 2001-02] shows it is possible for Africa to stand up against flawed elections. In that case I believe the politically incorrect but essential factor was a willingness to counter government force and violence with equal force. There is a time and place for peaceful resistance, but as Zimbabwe demonstrates a Ghandi is of little use against truly committed dictators.
Jude Kirkham, Vancouver, Canada

Nigeria, it's a pity, once more we've lost the golden opportunity to put things right! The vicious circle continues, Nigeria is no Ukraine, mass protest will only result to arson, day time vandalization etc. I live in Moscow and closely watched what happened in Ukraine. It is desirable but its not gonna happen, not in Nigeria. Lets keep praying may be some day this jinx will be broken.

It's really a good Idea to go Orange but don't forget that Nigeria's democracy, the police and other institutions are not as mature as those of Ukraine. I think we Nigerians can still make our peaceful protest and wait patiently for the next election in 2011. If we go Orange now there will be a bloodbath.
Tobias, Port Harcourt, Rivers State

All the politicians in Nigeria are corrupt. Each one of them is just scrambling for a vantage position for the looting of our "national cake". Let those who want an "Orange Revolution" bring out their children to lead the protest. They hide their own children in foreign countries and expect us to fight for them? We refuse to be cannon fodder for anyone.
G.O. Ajibade, Minna, Nigeria

I acknowledge the fact that elections only nominate the lesser evil as there will not be a significant difference between Obasanjo, Buhari, Atiku, and Umar. Two questions: why waste the poor Nigerian's time and tax money when you know the results of the election? why are African institutions and leaders silent on these issues? The ethnic composition of Nigeria will make it impossible for one candidate to gain a 70% majority in a credible presidential election. No way. Next time, the fraudulent electoral officials should think of a believable percentage of 51.5%. That will surely not play on people's intelligence. All I'm saying is, Orange revolutions have worked in Ivory Coast and Guinea and should work in Nigeria if modified to the Nigerian context. Even if it fails. Bad leaders will know not to take the electorates for granted in the future.
ouborr kutando, Cambridge MA

Our people might have delivered to the highest bidder as usual in a country I understand very well their character. This gives the present winner victory any time the election is reorganised. So, no need trying to dig out an animal from an empty hole. Yes, our own democracy is young at forty + and a fool at forty is a fool forever. Still finding it hard to start.
augustin, Paris France

I think it's interesting to note that there is really no 'hurting' leverage from the outside world (US and Europe). It's good and bad. Good because, yes, Nigeria is a sovereign state, but bad because we get the same bad leaders all the time, who are only accountable to themselves and not the Nigerian people.
Gbenga, Houston. USA

Fagbenle said it all and the most important is this: who wants to die for this politically adulterous generation of Nigerian Political elites? Check out the history of all of them, from Obasanjo to Atiku... This same people profited from the struggles of Nigerians in the quest to validate the 1993 June 12 elections, which remained till date Nigeria's freest and fairest election, with minimal or no sacrifice by these generation of politicians. As far as Nigerians are concerned, these Politicians are simply businessmen who have invested and are out to make returns. I beg make dem leave we poor Nigerians alone! If dem wan protest, make dem go bring their children from Europe to lead, we go follow dem!
Temi, Lagos

I just wonder why people keep referring to Nigeria's 14th and 21st April as election days cos there was none. What happened was selection day and one thing I am happy about is that no PDP won my state of Abia. All Nigeria's politicians are corrupt but PDP has the 'est' if there is any.
Chioma, Portsmouth, UK

I think we need to carry out a much needed "house-cleaning exercise" aimed at purging the likes of OBJ, Atiku, Buhari & others and Nigerian society at large of corruption and graft as well as restoring a sense of moral responsibility and accountability in public life. What we need is another Jerry Rawlings of Ghana. Enough!!
Onyewuchi, KC, USA

This is not the first time that a flawed election has taken place in Africa and nothing was done... I bet you the AU and most of the leaders of Africa will endorse the election as fair and credible. Unfortunately the expectation by the rest of the world is "if they are not killing each other" it is acceptable. Unfortunately nothing is going to change until the people of Africa are ready to stand up and say Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.
Wondesen Abate, Toronto, Canada

We should, of course, never have reached the point where we are asking ourselves the question : Is Nigeria About to be Going Orange? Many, many people of proven integrity... have been saying for years that the Obasanjo Government is every ounce as mendacious as any other previous Nigerian government, whether military or otherwise. But, we allowed the cheerleaders - Bush, Tony Blair... - to pull wool over our eyes. Now the behemoth emperors of the world... will be looking up to us to tell them how to unscramble the egg. You just can't unscramble an egg, however good will you put in it. Either you want fried eggs from the start or you eat your scrambled egg as it is.
Mohamed Malleck, Swift Current, Canada

In spite of the fact that this disgraceful sham has robbed us of our voice, people are still rallying around cliches like "elections are never perfect" and "all politicians are the same". If we select bad politicians, then let us live with the consequences. It is highly unpalatable to have failed leaders foisted upon us and then be expected to live with the consequences. Another 8 years of the same depressing stories awaits us and when this crew rig the next elections, we'll just dust our records and put them back on the gramophone. I despair for Nigeria.
Chinedu, Aberdeen, UK

Fagbenle already explained the whole issue. A lot of Nigerians don't know the history of democracy and Rigging is a word that came from the Europeans itself. They all have gone through what we are going through now. Let's hope we shall overcome all this odds that is against us with a new generation that is coming behind us.
victor towobola, Providence, RI. USA

The 'people' are the ones used by the politicians to disrupt and cause violence. They sell their voices for food, money and drugs. I do not see the professional middle class going along with the people now or in the future, unless we have new breeds of credible politicians with properly defined mandates focusing on macro-economic issues as well.
abi, Lagos

I couldn't vote, cos I registered in Imo State, but had to be in Abuja during the election. I agree with Mr Fagbenle's statements. To me, all the candidates are same. Their supporters equally took part in rigging in different parts of the Country. The Only difference is, PDP out-rigged others and was therefore appointed winner by INEC. No body should blame INEC for this. Blame the electoral Act.
Okwaraka Chinedu, Otako District, Abuja

It is the various Election Monitors and Commentators that have amazed me. They seemed to have just woken up to the mess that is Obasanjo's Nigeria. For almost eight years he and his 'clan' including Atiku Abubakar emasculated democracy and the world watched. Now the same laughable world expected a credible election from Obasanjo's Nigeria.
Cletus Nwabuzo, Rome, Italy

It will be better if all the people who ran in Nigeria's April 2007 election (both winners and losers of presidential and State) be disqualified. The election cancelled and new set of people come out to re-run for a proper election. I also suggest that Nigeria should hire foreign honest NGO body to run the election. Let the electoral body be non-Nigerians so they will not likely be in favour of any body or any party.
Lover of Nigeria's Destitutes, Maastrict, Netherlands

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