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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Elections Briefing Paper

Africa Policy E-Journal
April 11, 2003 (030411)

Nigeria: Elections Briefing Paper
(Reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains excerpts from a newly released briefing paper by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). The CDD, with offices in Nigeria and in London, is an independent research, information and training institution dedicated to policy-oriented scholarship on questions of democratic development and peace building in the West African sub-region. An independent CDD team will be monitoring the elections in six selected states across Nigeria where the organization has engaged in monitoring for the last four years.

For the full text of the CDD briefing and to contact CDD for media interviews, see the website and contact information below.

See also a new report from Human Rights Watch released yesterday on the threat of violence to the elections in several Nigerian states. and

For additional background on Nigeria see the Great Decisions article published earlier this year at:
as well as earlier E-Journal postings at>>

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[Excerpts only: the full paper is available on the CDD website at:]

Centre for Democracy and Development
International Office / Bureau Internationale
3B Leroy House, 436 Essex Road, London N1 3QP, UK Tel: +44 (0)20 7359 7775; Fax: +44 (0)20 7359 2221 E-mail:;

This briefing paper was prepared by Olly Owen with Morten Hagen, Otive Igbuzor and Amina Salihu.

For further information on the Nigeria elections 2003 please contact us as listed below:

CDD in London: Dapo Oyewole,, Tel: +44 (0)20 7359 7775 Morten Hagen,, mobile: +44 (0)7905 139 415 Olly Owen,

CDD in Lagos: Otive Igbuzor, Tel: +234 (0)1 493 4420 / 473 0705 mobile: +234 (0)802 303 9797

CDD in Abuja: Amina Salihu,, Tel: +234 (0)9 4130729 mobile: +234 (0)80 330 56245 Michael Utsaha,

Contents [of full briefing; only some excerpted below]

  • Why are Nigeria's 2003 elections so important?
  • The history of democratic elections in Nigeria
  • Politics, wealth and power
  • Political parties in Nigeria
  • Local rivalries and political violence
  • Party Politics and violence
  • Nigeria's contested nationhood
  • The Federal system: constitutionalism and alternatives
  • Separatists and ethnic nationalism
  • Militias and vigilantes
  • The politics of religion & Shari'a law
  • Ethnic-regional tensions and power-sharing
  • The army in politics
  • The fight for democracy in Nigeria
  • The Oputa Panel
  • Human rights in democratic Nigeria
  • The Judiciary
  • The role of the media
  • Rich and poor
  • The environment
  • Oil and ecosystems in the Niger Delta
  • Health and human development
  • Current domestic issues in Nigeria
  • Current issues in Nigeria's foreign affairs
  • Previous Outbreaks of violence and conflict
  • List of Political Parties
  • Resources for further research

Why are Nigeria's 2003 elections so important?

With a population of over 120 million and many expatriate communities across the globe, the largest economy in West Africa, and great political importance in the region, the African continent, and the global stage, events which affect the stability and future of Nigeria affect the entire world. Nigeria is also of global strategic importance as a major oil producer, supplying around 10% of the US market. In the recent past, Nigeria has been in the news mainly in the light of several sad incidents of ethnic and communal violence, and this has led to a perception of heightened tensions as we approach the 2003 elections. Elections, interrupted as they have been by periods of military dictatorship, have always contained potential for civil unrest, and so the good conduct of the forthcoming polls is a matter not only of international concern but also of symbolic importance for the citizens of Nigeria. ...

Nigeria's domestic political scene has relatively recently shifted from authoritarian military regimes to a democratically elected one. However, the so-called 'democratic dividend' has hardly materialised in terms of any improvement in ordinary people's living conditions, and the incumbent regime, although democratically elected, has lost a substantial degree of trust.

The history of democratic elections in Nigeria

The most free, fair and peacefully conducted elections in Nigeria were those in 1959, 1979, 1993 and 1999, and the most chaotic, violent and disputed were those in 1964 and 1983. The reason for this is that the first three were 'transition' elections, in which the regimes in power and responsible for organising the elections had to hand over power to a democratic civilian regime. ... In contrast, the other elections can be viewed as potential 'consolidation' elections, in which an elected civilian government was responsible for organizing elections to hand over power to a successor regime. The failure of these elections to consolidate democracy (each led in fact to disruption and eventually a return to military rule) was due to the reluctance of the incumbent regime to allow a level playing field, in case they lost their grip on power. The current PDP regime has devolved conduct of the 2003 elections to the Independent National Electoral Commission, although there is considerable debate as to whether this body is vulnerable to political pressure. It can be seen, then, that a second consecutive peaceful and successful election would be an important symbolic milestone in Nigeria's history.

Political parties in Nigeria

In order to stop the Federal government being dominated by one particular ethno-regional group to the detriment of others (which was one of the fears behind the coup which led eventually to the Biafra war of 1966), the constitutions of Nigeria right from the second republic stipulates that to win power a party must achieve a spread of majority votes across the different regions of the country. But this in turn leads to massive political parties which are less ideological policy-driven groups, and more coalitions of players perhaps with one particular ethno-regional clique at the core deemed likely to be able to deliver the vote in their home areas, either through their established public standing, or their ability to plentifully fund their campaigning. ...

Local rivalries and political violence

The process of political competition is replicated in miniature in all 36 states of the Nigerian federation, in battles over governorships and state assemblies, and even more locally, in competition over who dominates the councils administering the 774 Local Government Areas. ... Much of the vicious localised violence of the recent past, for instance the vicious small-scale war in Benue state in 2001 and in Warri, Delta State more recently have been largely driven by competition between ethnically-based factions over domination of Local Government Councils.

Nigeria's contested nationhood

Throughout its history, the Nigerian nation has been in a tension between the centralising tendencies of the 'state class'; those politicians, military men, bureaucrats and businesspeople who benefit from being players on a national stage, and on the other hand regional, ethnic and faith communities who feel stifled within the state and wish to keep as much autonomy as possible. Today this debate exists not just between Nigerian nationalists and ethnic nationalists, but also between the Federal administration and State governments. One of the most hotly contested issues is that of resource control, and the correct proportion of oil revenues to assign to the producing states, as against the Federal government. Most recently the Legislature and Supreme Court have debated whether coastal states should share in offshore oil revenues, and to what extent. Control over state agencies and budget allocation are also bones of contention.

The Federal system: constitutionalism and alternatives

As the military was departing the political scene in 1999, it hurriedly put together the 1999 Constitution. As at the time candidates were contesting for elective positions, no one had seen a copy of the constitution. The Constitution was promulgated into law a few days before the new civilian regime was sworn in. The 1999 Constitution has been criticized by both government officials and civil society alike for being an imposition by the military. Furthermore, the constitution is a bundle of contradictions and it is very unitary despite consensus among Nigerians that the best form of government for the country is a federal system. Civil society organizations led by the Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR) have been advocating for a process led and participatory approach to Constitution Making in Nigeria. Although the present regime initiated a process to review the constitution, the popular participation was not as the people had anticipated. In addition, the process has not been concluded. The reform of the Constitution will therefore be a major election issue.

The politics of religion & Shari'a law

The first term of the Obasanjo administration has been marred by the outbreak of periods of rioting and civic strife over religious issues, which have been of major concern in the country and internationally. Some estimate a death toll as high as 10,000 in such incidents over the past four years though this is unconfirmed. Violence between Muslim and Christian communities is nothing new in Nigeria, although there is also a less reported story of long and peaceful coexistence. Due to the repressive nature of military regimes, such religious tensions have tended to boil over when Nigeria is in a period of democracy, with freedom of speech opening the way to public debate over contentious issues. ...

The institutionalisation of Shari'a law in 11 of Nigeria's northern states, begun in Zamfara by Governor Sani, might be seen as a cynical ploy to seem to be representing the interests of Muslims, with the ulterior motive of bolstering individuals' local power-bases in the face of a loss of power at a national level. But this would not be the full story; the reasons why Shari'a has been so popular in the areas where it has been introduced include the devout beliefs of many citizens, their perception of God's law as a way to rectify the morally corrupt state of the nation, and the embracing of a hard-line system of corporal and capital punishment in reaction to the rocketing crime rate. ...

And there are two important things to bear in mind: Religion can be more the excuse than the root cause for violence, as the Miss World Riots in Kaduna illustrate. Violence against Christians was also violence directed at outsiders, including southerners, and members of minority groups from central Nigeria, who are perceived as increasingly encroaching upon economic life and local government structures in the important Northern city. ...

The other important thing to bear in mind is the very large contribution made by leaders of both religions to resolving such tragedies: Imams and priests are engaged in interfaith dialogues, and as leaders of civil society, in cooling tempers on both sides in many cities.

Ethnic-regional tensions and power-sharing

Since even before independence, Nigerian politics have been characterized by the jostling of three large and two small ethnic-regional blocs. Though often over-simplified, it is true to say that the political elite of the Northern region is based around a Muslim, Hausa-Fulani identity built on established pre-colonial Emirate states, and that through the large numbers of its members in the Armed forces, this establishment has often dominated political life. The Yoruba Western region, while home to many businesspeople, professionals and civil servants, is religiously mixed and at times deeply divided between its various cities, in the past the capitals of warring states. And the Igbo-populated Eastern region has thriving commercial hubs but has often expressed a feeling of exclusion from power at the central level, currently expressed by the gathering campaign for an Igbo president.

Between these three politicised ethno-regional identities sit sizeable numbers of smaller groups of mixed Muslim, Christian and Animist heritage in the central 'Middle-Belt', and numbers of small kingdoms and communities in the Niger Delta. Middle-Belt cities such as Jos have been the site of ethnic-religious riots in the recent past, which should not be seen solely as the manifestation of the North-South divide, but also of the area's own specific problems. The communities of the Niger delta have grown more assertive in demands for an equal share of national wealth, given their position on top of the oil deposits which supply it. To manage tensions, ethnic quotas have been introduced governing recruitment and promotion in state service.

In electoral politics, the desire for access to national power and wealth by the elites of each bloc, and the fear of rule by a national government dominated by another group, has led to a kind of unofficial 'consociationalism', whereby a candidate from one major group will choose a running-mate from another, and a party chairman from the third, with minorities playing for a stake as a kind of floating constituency. Thus the PDP is led by Obasanjo from the South-West with Atiku Abubakar, a Northerner, as running-mate. The ANPP has chosen former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari as presidential candidate representing the conservative Northern interest, coupled with Chuba Okadigbo from the South-East to allay that region's fears of exclusion.

The fight for democracy in Nigeria

The extensive Afrobarometer survey of public attitudes across Nigeria shows the ups and downs of last few years reflected in public attitudes. The great majority of those questioned still valued the democratic system in itself, and preferred it to any other form of government, but at the same time expressed reservations about its current performance. But the right to live under this system has been hard-won. The military governments of the 1990s were opposed by a broad front of civil-society groups, media organs, students and activists who worked both within and outside Nigeria to open up public space for opposition and debate. The true state of affairs became apparent when Babangida annulled the results of the 12 June 1993 election due to the surprise win of M.K.O. Abiola, who was later jailed and subsequently died in detention. Under the authoritarian Abacha government activists became more vocal as their work became more dangerous, and some paid with their lives. The tradition of civil society activism, as the 'eternal vigilance', which safeguards civic freedoms, has become more, not less, necessary in the return to democratic rule. Human rights lawyers, environmental groups, the media, political activists and religious leaders and others continue to hold the government and politicians to account for their past and present failings.

Human Rights and the Oputa Panel

In June 1999, soon after assuming office, President Obasanjo established the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission, otherwise known as the 'Oputa Panel'. It had the major task of re-examining past cases of human rights violations, with a view to possibly effecting reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. Never in the history of Nigeria has any public commission or inquiry received the kind of enthusiasm that greeted the establishment of this Commission. Many Nigerians hoped then, and still hope now, that the exercise will bring succour to survivors and engender a broad process of healing and reconciliation, which in any event is vital to the health of the Country. ...

On 28 May 2002, the full seven-volume report was submitted to the President. A committee headed by Elizabeth Pam, one of the commissioners, was set up to implement recommendations. More than 10 months afterwards, the report is yet to be officially released, even though the President had given his word that the Oputa report would not go the way of past reports read by an inner circle, analysed for political gains or damage and then discarded. Perceptions are that the need of the incumbent regime to negotiate its way to a second term with the very same persons indicted in the report, may mean the suspension of the Oputa report until a time when it may be utilized as a suitable political pawn.

Human rights in democratic Nigeria

... In July 2002 for three weeks, women from Ugborodo (also known as Escravos) community in Nigeria's Niger delta, occupied Chevron Texaco's gas tank farm in Escravos. The women were demanding rehabilitation and reclamation of their community's land, employment for their children and welfare schemes for the aged. The protesters called off the siege on Thursday 18th July after some promises were extracted from the Chevron/Texaco management. This led to a ripple effect, which saw women from an Ijaw community in Ondo state, and Abiteye flow station in Delta state, also occupying flow stations. In Warri, joint action by Itsekiri, Ijaw and Ilaje women ended with police brutally assaulting the women. Other instances of police and Military brutality were the incidents of Odi and Choba in 1999, and Zaki-Biam in Benue state in 2002, where many women were raped, killed and traumatized. ...

Rich and poor

The annual per capita average GNP of $260 masks a huge gap between rural peasants and urban underclasses on one hand, and the wealthy internationally-oriented elite on the other. It is also less by $120 a year than Nigeria's resource-poor neighbour Benin. Although Nigeria has thriving small businessmen and women, economic power and opportunity is overwhelmingly in the hands of those with access to state revenues and influence, including serving and retired civil servants and ex-military personnel. Avenues taken to wealth by such persons are sometimes within the law, and sometimes not, a fact reflected in Transparency International's rating of Nigeria as one of the planet's six most corrupt countries. ...

The centrality of oil to the whole nation is reflected in the long-running historical debates over formulas for revenue allocation between the Federal Government, the oil-producing areas, and Nigeria's other states. The latest chapter in the slow resolution of this debate has been over whether coastal states should be given a share of offshore discoveries, in which at present the Federal Government is the winner. ...

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Date distributed (ymd): 030411
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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