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National Post: NIGERIAN VOTE FLAWED: CRITICS

PROCESS UNDER FIRE: ‘The electoral process failed the Nigerian people’

BY KARL MAIER AND JULIE ZIEGLERBloomberg News
24 Apr 2007

ABUJA • Nigeria’s ruling party candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua, won Saturday’s presidential vote by a 4-to-1 marginover his nearest rival, the electioncommission said yesterday amid growing complaints by monitors that the polls were flawed.

Mr. Yar’Adua wonmore than 24.6 million votes, defeating former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, who gained 6.6 million votes, and Vice-President Atiku Abubakar with 2.6 million, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced in Abuja, the capital.

“The contest has come and gone, so must our differences dissipate,” Mr. Yar’Adua said during a news conference in Abuja.

Criticism by electionobser vers overshadowed the bid by Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and top oil producer, to transfer power from one civilian government to another for the first time inits 47-year history. The mainNigerianobser ver body, the Transitional Monitoring Group, called for a new vote.

“We have come to the conclusion that the polls were a charade and did not meet the minimum standards of democratic elections,” Innocent Chukwuma, the chairmanof the group, which fielded 10,000 observers, said by phone in Abuja. “We therefore reject the elections and call for their cancellation.”

The United States stopped short of calling for a new round of balloting, with State Department spokesmanSeanM cCormack saying instead that the election was “deeply flawed” and that complaints need to be handled within Nigeria’s legal system. Crude oil surged, passing US$65 a barrel, on concerns that shipments from Nigeria might be disrupted because of the disputed results.

The irregularities in the election, particularly in the oil-producing Niger River delta, will make it hard for a new government to quell an insurgency there, said Anyakwe Nsirimovu, the head of the Transitional Monitoring Group observers in Rivers state.

Attacks in the delta have forced Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Nigerian venture to almost halve oil production, by 477,000 barrels a day, since February 2006.Both of the declared losers in the presidential contest, Mr. Buhari and Mr. Abubakar, rejected the results.

“The ‘election’ did not meet any national or international standards,” Mr. Buhari said. “I completely and whole-heartedly reject these results as a sham.”

The EuropeanU nion’s observer group said the polls weren’t credible, while the Washingtonbased National Democratic Institute said flaws “compromised the integrity” of the elections.

“The elections have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of theNigerianpeople, and the process cannot be considered to have beencredible, ” the head of the 150-person EU monitoring team, Max vandenBerg , told reporters inAbuja. The EU team said 200 people were killed in election-related violence during state polls onApril 14 and the federal balloting two days ago.

Mr. Yar’Adua disputed the assessment by the EU, saying “it was a sweeping conclusion and allegation which I don’t think was based on fact.”

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is stepping downonM ay 29, acknowledged during a nationwide telecast that “mistakes” were made in the polls and urged that complaints be taken to electoral tribunals. He said he was “disappointed” that political parties used fraud and violence to win votes.

“The elections cannot be said to have beenper fect,” he said, citing reports of violence, theft of ballot boxes and the late arrival of voting materials.

Mr. Obasanjo took office in 1999, ending 16 years of military rule in Nigeria.

“The way in which a government comes into power matters,” SebastianSpio- Garbrah, a West Africa analyst at the New Yorkbased Eurasia Group, said inan interview.

The National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based research group whose delegation was led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said it witnessed “serious flaws” in the polls.

“In many places, and in a number of ways, the electoral process failed the Nigerianpeople, ” the NDI said ina statement released inAbuja. “The cumulative effect of the serious problems the delegation witnessed substantially compromised the integrity of the electoral process.”

Maurice Iwu, the chairmanof INEC, called the electiona “free and successful election” and said “we should celebrate it.”

That may not be the reaction in oil-producing areas, according to one election observer.

“This is going to be a motivation for violence in the Niger delta because people will feel that they can’t use dialogue and negotiations to deal with issues,” Mr. Nsirimovu said by telephone from Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital. “It tells them they can’t use the ballot box to make a change.”

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