Page last updated at 20:50 GMT, Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Can Nigerian leader get on with his job?

By Andrew Walker
BBC News, Abuja

Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua
Mr Yar'Adua has vowed to carry out reforms

The tribunal ruling upholding last year's Nigerian presidential election seems to allow Umaru Yar'Adua to get on with his job.

But the issues he will have to tackle to be a successful president will be made more difficult by the "forces of conservatism" that levered him into power, observers say.

The ruling may turn out to be a victory for stability and conservatism, rather than reform.

President Yar'Adua has vowed to reform the electoral system, the electricity grid and the oil industry.

A serious and earnest man, he no doubt means to make these changes.

But some observers told the BBC President Yar'Adua would have a tough time reforming government because those who got him into power would now expect repayment.

Flawed election

Umar Yar'Adua was a little-known governor from Katsina state when he was handed the nomination of his party in December 2006.

The night before the primary all the other major contenders were forced to step down by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Yar'Adua is not any less beholden to the people who rigged him into power
Chris Albin Lackey,
Human Rights Watch

This gave rise to the observation among journalists in Nigeria he would be "selected not elected".

"Yar'Adua is not any less beholden to the people who rigged him into power," said Chris Albin Lackey, of Human Rights Watch, who was in Katsina during the April polls.

The election was marred by violence and poor regulation by the Independent National Election Commission (Inec).

Across the country people who queued for hours at polling stations could not vote on the day because ballots had not arrived, according to international observers.

In several states polling stations were broken up by youths carrying machetes.

Big margin

In the past gangs of thugs have been paid by local politicians to deliver the election for the government.

Serial numbers were not printed on the ballots, making it easy for anyone to manipulate the result.

Election violence in Nigeria
The 2007 election was marred by violence

In Abuja the result was announced before all the states had reported their counts, opposition party agents claimed.

The tribunal recognised that many aspects of the election broke the law.

"But the petitioners did not bring anything of substance to show that these breaches of the electoral act substantially altered the outcome of the election," Judge Abdulkadir Abubakar Jega said.

President Yar'Adua won the election by a massive margin.

He took 70% of the vote compared to 18% for Muhammadu Buhari and 7% for Atiku Abubakar.

The ruling has raised questions about how exactly they could have provided more evidence.

"How can you prove it affected the result of the election when you don't have the evidence that an election took place?" Mr Albin Lackey said.


Lawyers acting for President Yar'Adua said the ruling should put the flawed election out of the way and allow him to get on with his job.

The election tribunal has done a wonderful job, you really can't fault it legally speaking
Prof Awalu Yadudu
Some observers agree.

"The law is supposed to balance society, not plunge it into chaos," Usman Mohammed, a lecturer in international relations, said.

"It will strengthen the government and sharpen the opposition."

Prof Awalu Yadudu, a constitutional lawyer said he sympathised with people who did not believe the ruling reflected what really happened during the election.

"People will feel despondent and disappointed," he said. "But the election tribunal has done a wonderful job, you really can't fault it legally speaking."

Elections may turn out to be better next time, if the lessons are learned, he said


Another area President Yar'Adua may really be judged is not in his election, but in the reform of the oil sector, particularly the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

He has stated he wants to make it into a functioning industry that will deliver increased revenue - and development - for Nigeria.

But a source in the oil industry who did not want to be named, said: "I just cannot see how he is going to reform the sector, because those who put him there will want to get valuable contracts. It's like the forces of conservatism have won."

Most Nigerians have already put the election behind them.

Some have warmed to their new president, but whether he will have a lasting effect on improving their lives will be his true test.

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