Local council polls in Nigeria on Saturday 5 December mark the first step in the country’s transition to democratic rule. These will be followed by governorship and state assembly elections on 9 January, national assembly elections two weeks later and finally the presidential poll on 27 February. The highpoint of the transition programme will be the swearing-in of a democratically elected new president on 29 May, putting an end to almost 30 years of military rule in Africa’s most populous nation.
International observers are optimistic the current military ruler General Abdulsalami Abubakar will stand by his pledge to usher in democracy, after half-hearted efforts by his predecessors failed to bear fruit. In 1993, General Ibrahim Babangida annulled general elections believed to have been won by businessman Chief Moshood Abiola who died earlier this year.
And Abubakar’s immediate predecessor, General Sani Abacha, who also died suddenly this year, had set in motion another flawed transition programme aimed at returning himself to power as a civilian leader.
In a bid to demonstrate his commitment to the transition process, Abubakar has signed into law four decrees aimed at guaranteeing the national electoral commission’s independence and the country’s borders will be sealed ahead of the poll to prevent rigging by foreigners coming in to vote. In addition, he has warned the army to prepare to relinquish power once a civilian government is in place. Independent observers in Lagos told IRIN the police will be out in force on Saturday to ensure peaceful and fair voting.
Over 55 million voters are registered to vote in Saturday’s poll at 111,430 polling centres countrywide. Candidates are vying for 79,030 seats. Observers say the local elections are important for the legalisation of nine political parties which have so far been granted provisional registration. Only parties that obtain at least five percent of the vote in a minimum of 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states will be eligible for subsequent elections, a move described as undemocratic by certain human rights groups.
The nine parties include the Yoruba-dominated Alliance for Democracy ([AD] which advocates a president from the south), Democratic Advance Movement (DAM), Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJ), National Solidarity Movement (NSM), People’s Redemption Party (PRP), United Democratic Party (UDP), United People’s Party (UPP) and the frontrunners People’s Democratic Party (PDP) - which draws support from prominent politicians such as General Olusegun Obasanjo and former vice-president Alex Ekwueme - and the All People’s Party (APP) led by former senator Mahmud Waziri. Critics accuse the APP of including too many Abacha supporters, but to entice support from the south the party says it favours a southern president. Independent media sources in Lagos confirmed to IRIN the main issue is the potential shift of power to the south, as previous heads of states have come predominantly from the north.
The authorities are keen to stress the transparency of the elections and have announced there will be no restrictions on journalists who want to cover the poll. In addition, international observers from the Commonwealth and the Carter Center will monitor the proceedings, described by regional analysts as a test case for Nigeria’s democratic process.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions