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Contributor: Human Rights Watch
Malpractice galore in Nigerian elections

In October 1 1995 - two years after the current military dictatorship of General Abacha assumed office in a bloodless coup, the general announced a transition programme that would lead to the return to civilian rule in October 1998. There would be a gradual replacement of military administrators with elected civilians, starting from the local elections right up to the gubernatorial and presidential elections. Ever since that announcement, the programme has been beset by a series of administrative errors, incidents of corruption, chaotic organisation and delays that have made observers wander whether the programme will ever be completed.
The entire process can hardly be said to be free and fair. Those parties or politicians that have an anti-government stance have been banned and the government has often intervened wherever the results of elections have not been to their liking. As a result of the crackdown on politicians critical of Abacha the final five parties are hard to tell apart. Indeed two of the parties have asked Abacha to be their presidential candidate while those with presidential aspirations in the other parties have been intimidated into renouncing these aspirations. Consequently, many observers to the conclusion that Abacha intends to succeed himself ? as has been the case in a number of African countries - as the next civilian head of state.
Strengthening this speculation is the emergence of certain groups campaigning for Abacha to return become the civilian president. These groups include the Movement for Abacha for President (led by Chief Orji Kalu), Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha, and National Mobilisation and persuasion Committee (headed By Godwin Daboh Adzuanah). Abacha himself has consistently refused to rule out his participation in the election.
The transition timetable has continued to shift so much so that it seems unlikely that the October 1998 presidential election date will be met. A new constitution was to have been approved by the military cabinet ? by December 1995, and although a draft constitution was presented to Abacha in June 1995, no decision has been reached on the constitution and voters do not understand the foundation of the system under which they are voting.
Local government elections which were supposed to have taken place in late 1996 did not take place until March 1997. State Assembly elections which were supposed to take place between July and September 1997 were rescheduled for December 1997 and gubernatorial elections which were scheduled for the fourth quarter of 1997 have been shifted to the third quarter of 1998. To date, no rules for the outstanding elections have been published.
Another problem besetting the election process is the aforementioned problem of continual intervention in the process by government officials, often with ridiculous outcomes. An example is the case in Abuja, the federal Capital territory, where NECON (National Electoral Commission of Nigeria ? the body with the overall responsibility for organising the elections) decided to hold local government bye-election on, April 3rd, in three areas where the original results proved inconclusive. The three local government areas in question were Abuja municipal council, Bwari Council and Gwagwalada council. There had been winners in these areas but they had not met the requirements of having at least ? of the votes in at least two-thirds of the wards in the local government area. Defying NECON?s announcement, minister for capital territory, Jeremiah Useni declared that there would be no bye-election in Abuja and Bwari municipal councils where UNCP candidates had won, and that the choice between the NCPN and DPN candidates in Gwagwalada would be decided by ?the tossing of coin?! In late March, Useni swore in candidates for these wards, against the wishes of NECON.
There were, of course, other the cases of blatant malpractice which have come to be accepted in Nigerian elections. The counting of the votes in Langtang North local government area revealed a victory for Pomfa Banda of the CNC party. The results were signed by the returning officer, Gabriel Zi and countersigned by the party agents. Zi also signed a declaration of the results, certifying that Banda had received 15,884 votes, while Joel Dadi of the UNCP had received 15,845. The party agents received copies of the declaration. Before he could announce the results, Zi and the electoral officer, along with the party agents, were summoned to NECON headquarters where the state administrative secretary of NECON announced that there had been ?orders from above? to cancel the results of the Langtang North election. A radio broadcaster announced that the election had been cancelled ?for security reasons? and that a bye-election would take place on April 3.
Banda, applied for and obtained an injunction from the Federal High Court prohibiting the bye-election. Although NECON ignored the injunction and the bye-election went forward, it was boycotted by four of the five political parties. Joel Dadi, the UNCP candidate, prevailed by default. Banda again filed an appeal with the Plateau State election appeal tribunal which ruled in his favour and ordered that he should be sworn in as chairman of the local government but continued legal wrangles have ensured that he is yet to be installed.
Another case is that of Francis Kwarpo Damwesh. After it was announced that Damwesh of the CNC party had won the election in Mangu local government area in Plateau State, NECON officials and the candidates were summoned to NECON headquarters in Jos. They were informed that Damwesh had not submitted the proper nomination papers d was therefore disqualified. Esther Sen, the UNCP candidate, was declared to have won instead. Damwesh, through counsel, applied for and obtained an injunction from the Federal High Court prohibiting Sen from being sworn in until the merits of the case could be presented to an election tribunal. In support of his application, he presented copies of correspondence from NECON, including a letter confirming that he had been approved to run for the chairmanship of Mangu local government area, and a copy of a receipt for the ten thousand Naira he had paid NECON in exchange for the nomination form. Notwithstanding the injunction, Sen was sworn in.
Damwesh encountered substantial difficulties in pursuing his case before the election tribunal. Most notably, the electoral officer responsible for receiving nomination forms, Timothy Dangle, attended the first day of the tribunal proceedings, but never returned. Following the first session, Dangle implicitly requested a bribe from Damwesh by informing him that the respondents had offered him N300,000 ($3,600). Damwesh did not respond. The returning officer, Joshua Waklek, testified that he had been in constant contact with Dangle in the days preceding the election and that Dangle had never suggested that Damwesh was not competent to contest the election. Although the election tribunal ruled against Damwesh, this decision has been reversed on appeal. To date, however, Sen remains in office. In Lafia, Nassarawa State, results annouced at the poling stations in Lafia reportedly indicated a victory for DPN candidate Chris Abashi. En route to the collation centre, however, vehicles carrying the results from 2 electoral wards were stopped at a checkpoint manned by 10 armed men allegedly including the national auditor of the UNCP party. These results were seized and NECON later announced that the UNCP candidate, Mohammed Halilu, had won the election.
After Abashi filed a petition with an election tribunal, a high level government official reportedly tried to convince him to withdraw the case by promising him a government appointment. Abashi refused. The tribunal later dismissed the case on the grounds that it lacked jurisiction to hear the matter. The election appeal tribunal also dismissed the case.

The full report on the conduct of the Nigerian election is in the Human Rights Watch/ Africa publication entilted: Nigeria, Transition or Travesty? Copies of the Publication can be obtained from Human Rights Watch offices at: 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH (0171 713 1995)
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