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Nigeria Begins Election Reform Process


A 22-member panel has begun the process of reforming Nigeria's elections by holding its first public hearing. President Umaru YarAdua appointed the committee in response to criticism of last year's national elections. But Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports for VOA that some Nigerians are skeptical about the outcome of the exercise.

The 2007 general elections were hailed as a democratic milestone in Africa's most populous nation, marking the first transfer of power from one elected leader to another since 1960 when Nigeria gained independence from Britain.

But the elections were marred by such widespread rigging, ballot-stuffing and violence that independent election observers dismissed the results as not credible.

The ruling Peoples' Democratic Party was declared winner of 28 out of 36 state governor elections, while President YarAdua won more than 70 percent of the vote to clinch the presidential ballot.

He immediately promised sweeping changes to ensure free and fair elections in the future.

Pro-democracy activists say there is a broad consensus that corrective measures are needed, but as a beneficiary of the flawed electoral process Mr. YarAdua may not have the political will to implement radical reforms needed to make elections in Nigeria more credible.

"If we go by the tradition and by the experience we have had over time, people are being skeptical. But we cannot lose hope," said Emma Ezeazu, who is from the Alliance for Credible Elections. "As a nation, we must continue to hope that there will come a time when we will be out of the woods, and that every opportunity that presents itself we will do our best to make use of it. But given the tradition of governance in this country, people are very skeptical."

Flawed elections are increasingly alienating Nigerian voters from the political process. Recent local elections witnessed very low turnouts, as voters who said they were fed up with politics as usual stayed away.

A ranking member of the ruling party, Abdullahi Jalo, says President Umaru Yar Adua is committed to electoral reforms and should be given a chance.

"Let us be realistic. Before he [YarAdua] came on board, you know what was happening," Jalo said. "Two wrongs would not make a right, we have to start from somewhere and move forward. There were mistakes here and there, and he says wants to correct those mistakes, he should be given that chance, for God's sake."

A judicial process to hold accountable those responsible for the most serious violations of election guidelines is seen as a key component of any reform package.

The election reform panel is expected to publish a report in August.

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