Does last weekend’s convincing victory by Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) assure success for a PDP win in tomorrow’s presidential vote? To a US-based attorney who just returned from Nigeria on the eve of the elections, last week’s results did not necessarily embody the complex depth of feeling Nigeria’s estimated 61 million registered voters have had about their leadership’s strengths and weaknesses over the past eight years. Emmanuel Ogebe is a legal consultant for a Washington law firm. He specializes in Nigerian human rights issues, and says that first impressions may not hold the last word on tomorrow’s outcome.
“The success is extraordinary because the PDP hasn’t performed significantly well. The fact that they are in a battle for their lives in this election is indicative of the fact that people are not very happy with what they’ve done. Otherwise, they should have had a landslide,” he says.
Amid claims of massive fraud and the opposition’s reluctance to unite around a consensus candidate, Ogebe says he believes Nigerian voters may still surprise the conventional wisdom in some of Saturday’s races.
“There will be some surprises in the conventional sense that there are some states that PDP claims they have taken now, where the people are going to flat-out reject those results. The surprise is not that PDP won. Everybody is fairly certain that there was a handsome amount of rigging going on. The surprises will be if in some states, the people do not take to the streets to say, ‘No, we didn’t vote this way, and we want a recount or another election, or we want an investigation,’” he says.
Nigerian-born attorney Ogebe, left his country after the 1993 military takeover by Sani Abacha. General Abacha’s sudden death and the military’s dissatisfaction with his rule allowed the country to return to civilian government with the election of current President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. After two terms in office, some Obasanjo allies tried to change the constitution to enable him to serve an unprecedented third term, but that initiative was rejected last year by Nigeria’s Senate. With Nigeria's strong ethnic and regional rivalries, the wide gulf between poor and wealthy, and loyalties toward a range of candidates, Ogebe says human rights concerns can surface easily in such a highly charged atmosphere during weeks before the election.
“Almost on a daily basis, there were incidents of shots fired at rallies, opposition attacks. There’ve been several deaths, and the administration put all the security forces on alert and in that context, there is going to be unfortunately, casualty in terms of human rights,” he said.
On Saturday, April 21, Nigerians will elect senators and choose a president to succeed Olusegun Obasanjo. If completed successfully, the presidential election will mark Nigeria’s first peaceful transition from one democratically elected president to the next.