Monday, April 18, 2011

Protests in North as Nigerian Incumbent Leads in Vote Tally

Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising thirty-six states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in the north. Its coast in the south lies on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. The three largest and most influential ethnic groups in Nigeria are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. In terms of religion Nigeria is roughly split half and half between Muslims and Christians with a very small minority who practice traditional religion.

The people of Nigeria have an extensive history. Archaeological evidence shows that human habitation of the area dates back to at least 9000 BCE. The area around the Benue and Cross River is thought to be the original homeland of the Bantu migrants who spread across most of central and southern Africa in waves between the 1st millennium BCE and the 2nd millennium.

The name Nigeria was taken from the Niger River running through the country. This name was coined by Flora Shaw, the future wife of Baron Lugard, a British colonial administrator, in the late 19th century.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the seventh most populous country in the world, and the most populous country in the world in which the majority of the population is black. It is listed among the "Next Eleven" economies, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The economy of Nigeria is one of the fastest growing in the world, with the International Monetary Fund projecting a growth of 9% in 2008 and 8.3% in 2009.

Nigeria's human rights record remains poor and government officials at all levels continue to commit serious abuses.[109]

According to the U.S. Department of State,[109] the most significant human rights problems are: extrajudicial killings and use of excessive force by security forces; impunity for abuses by security forces; arbitrary arrests; prolonged pretrial detention; judicial corruption and executive influence on the judiciary; rape, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners, detainees and suspects; harsh and life‑threatening prison and detention center conditions; human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution and forced labor; societal violence and vigilante killings; child labor, child abuse and child sexual exploitation; female genital mutilation (FGM); domestic violence; discrimination based on sex, ethnicity, region and religion; restrictions on freedom of assembly, movement, press, speech and religion; infringement of privacy rights; and the abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government.

Under the Shari'a penal code that applies to Muslims in twelve northern states, offenses such as alcohol consumption, homosexuality, infidelity and theft carry harsh sentences, including amputation, lashing, stoning and long prison terms.

There are 521 languages in use in Nigeria. English is the official language, but most tribes prefer to use their own language, and thus find it difficult to communicate with other tribes or the outside world.

The New York Times: Protests in North as Nigerian Incumbent Leads in Vote Tally
Amid violent protests from his main opponent’s supporters, the incumbent Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, appeared set for an easy election victory after a weekend poll judged by analysts to be perhaps the country’s fairest ever.

Mr. Jonathan, a mild-mannered former vice president and zoologist, was leading his opponent, the former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, by over 10 million votes, or around two-to-one, according to a leading civil-society group which based its analysis on results from the country’s top electoral body.

While analysts applauded an absence of the kind of fraud, ballot stealing and violence that have plagued elections since the country’s return to democracy 12 years ago, Saturday’s vote was darkened by what has happened since.

In the northern city of Kano, thousands of youths carrying blades, daggers and sticks marched through the streets on Monday, setting bonfires, tearing down billboards belonging to Mr. Jonathan’s party and burning the house of the former speaker of the lower house of the Nigerian parliament. They shouted, “Only Buhari!”

Mr. Buhari, whose mid-1980s military regime was noted for its stern repression of dissent, was refusing to accept the result Monday afternoon, and his supporters had taken to the streets in northern Nigerian cities to protest, set alight tires and burn down buildings and houses linked to Mr. Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party.

The results split along regional, religious and ethnic lines, with Mr. Jonathan scoring big totals in the largely Christian south and southwest, and Mr. Buhari leading in the Muslim north of Nigeria.

In Kaduna, there were numerous deaths, and mosques, churches and houses of PDP members were burned down. A police station was also attacked, said Shehu Sani, a leading Nigerian human rights activist who lives there and whose organization has representatives all over the city. He said the electoral commission headquarters in Kaduna had also been burned down by a pro-Buhari mob.

“They are moving street by street, house by house, looking for ruling party members,” Mr. Sani said. “I am holed up in the house here. I can see the smoke, and I can hear the gunfire. There is a state of confusion everywhere,” Mr. Sani said.

Even before the outbreak of Monday’s violence, analysts had warned that Mr. Buhari’s campaign — unlike Mr. Jonathan’s — had not done enough to distance itself in advance from the endemic violence that has plagued every Nigerian election since the return to democratic rule in 1999.

“He has been asked to condemn violence, and he has not,” said a western diplomat in Abuja, of Mr. Buhari. “He is saying, ‘We don’t trust the system, take the system in your own hands.’”

Despite the outbursts of violence on Monday, the implications of the clean vote, for a new democracy still struggling to establish itself after years of dictatorship, are big. Analysts noted that the winner would most likely have a legitimacy denied to predecessors elected under murky circumstances, including ballot stealing, a fraudulent polling list and the violent intimidation of voters, all features of the last presidential election, the widely denounced 2007 vote.

None of those flaws appeared to be a significant part of the electoral landscape on Saturday.

Compared with earlier years, relatively few people, about 39, were killed in pre-election violence, according to the Election Situation Room, a Nigerian civil society group. There have been several bomb blasts as well, notably in the north, home to a militant Islamic sect. But the systematic manipulation that plagued previous elections appeared to be absent, experts said.

Nigeria, which is America’s fourth biggest supplier of crude oil, Africa’s most populous country and home to major investments by American energy companies, is considered by the United States to be “one of the two most important countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said in a conference call with reporters from Nigeria and elsewhere last month. The other major country usually cited is South Africa.

This year’s election was being closely watched by American officials because, despite shaking off military rule in 1999, Nigeria has maintained an ambiguous, less-than-democratic status, undermined by large-scale corruption, fraud and an elections agency that appeared to increase rather than combat those flaws.

Even more than the outcome, with Mr. Jonathan’s victory largely assumed, the process has been under scrutiny. Already, with Mr. Jonathan’s appointment of a respected political scientist, Attahiru Jega, last year to run the Independent National Electoral Commission, a will to reform appeared evident. Mr. Jega has received high marks for the expeditious cleaning of a voter list that included thousands of illegitimate names — of dead people and celebrities — using a computer registration system deployed at thousands of polling places in the vast country of 150 million, and taking electronic fingerprints of every voter.

Already, before Saturday’s vote, the parliamentary elections last week were “peaceful and credible in most parts of the country,” said Peter Lewis, a Nigeria expert at Johns Hopkins University. “This is the first poll they’ve had under a civilian administration where they’ve had a reasonable degree of organization,” Mr. Lewis said.

Nigerian analysts concurred. “At this stage we’re satisfied so far,” said Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja. “For a lot of Nigerians it was really a relief to see the elections go as peacefully as they did last Saturday.”

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