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Nigerian Activists Stage Stay at Home Protest


Nigerian activists have staged a stay at home protest against Tuesday's inauguration of Nigeria's next president, Umaru Yar'Adua, following elections viewed by many observers as flawed. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Abuja.

The country director for Action Aid Nigeria, Otive Igbuzor, did not go to work Monday and kept his two daughters from going to school as well.

"It is our way of expressing our displeasure about the flawed elections in Nigeria during the April 14th and 21st elections," he said.

Violence, underage voting, lack of materials in certain areas, and lack of transparency in releasing results marred the voting process in legislative, gubernatorial and presidential elections.

Igbuzor sees a disturbing trend since the end of military rule in 1999.

"We are worried because then 1999, there were problems, but it was manageable. In 2003, there were massive irregularities and we reported them during our election observation but we thought that well for the consolidation of democracy, those elections should be accepted," explained Igbuzor. "But what we have seen in 2007 it is going from bad to worse. And we need to make a statement that we cannot continue to have worse elections. We should be improving as we are going and not going from bad to worse."

Outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo said Nigeria did the best it could do, given the challenges of a vast, developing country.

The next president, the ruling party's Umaru Yar'Adua, has promised electoral reforms. Election observers from African bodies, Nigerian groups, the United States and Europe said the vote was deeply flawed and not credible.

Union leaders have called for protests Tuesday, even though similar calls in recent weeks failed to materialize.

Monday, many banks and offices were closed in the main city Lagos. Many Nigerians also stayed at home because they believed a two-day holiday period began Monday.

Igbuzor says it is not easy to protest in Nigeria.

"The freedom of protest is being constrained by the executive and the police. But freedom is not given to people," he said. "Freedom is struggled for and won. The Nigerian people know clearly that they have freedom to protest. That is why today we are staying at home."

"We are not going to work, that in itself is a form of protest," continued Igbuzor. "Even though we know that when people go out on the street, the handling by the executive, by the law enforcement agencies leaves very much to be desired."

Main opposition leaders have gotten together to contest election results through the court system, both at the federal and state levels. But some of their lawyers say their cases will be hard to win, since in many places, no elections were held, and specific results were never published at polling stations.

One of the losing presidential candidates, Mr. Obasanjo's vice-president turned political rival, Atiku Abubakar, says he will not attend Tuesday's swearing-in, as a sign of protest.

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