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Washington Asks Nigerians to Resolve Election Grievances Peacefully

The US State Department, citing initial reports, says Nigeria’s weekend presidential election, which was won by Katsina State Governor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was deeply flawed. Bush Administration officials, analyzing reports from election observers stopped short of requesting a re-run and nullification of results, but urged Nigerians to resolve their grievances peacefully according to Nigerian law.

Local and international observer teams from Nigeria’s Transition Monitoring Group, the European Union, the US – based International Republican Institute (IRI), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) all report that last Saturday’s polling fell far below acceptable standards. Ruling party (PDP) candidate Yar’Adua trounced his two closest opponents, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari (ANPP) and current Vice President Atiku Abubakar (AC) by a margin of 24-point-six million votes to six-point-six million for Buhari and about three million for Abubakar.

Washington attorney Tom McDonald, who served as US ambassador to Zimbabwe during the Clinton Administration (1997-2001), has just returned from a week-long visit to Nigeria. He says that despite widespread dissatisfaction with the results and the way in which the polling was carried out, the best advice Washington can give Nigerians is to maintain calm and sort out their objections through the country’s legal system.

“We want to advocate for rule of law. There was an election. It was clearly a flawed election. The reporting I’ve seen would seem to indicate that. But this should not be settled in the streets. It should not be settled by violence. It should be settled under the rule of law in the courts,” he said.

During his visit, Ambassador McDonald says he heard good reports about President-Elect Yar’Adua.

“He’s supposed to be a thoughtful, capable man, sort of understated, not particularly well known, frankly, and showed a bit of his own independence in the campaign,” says McDonald.

But the former American diplomat warned that Nigerians need to rally around the strengths of their country’s legal protections and restore faith in their institutions in order to make their faulty transition to a new civilian administration a success. He also urged Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to go to great lengths to maintain its impartiality after coming under fire for alleged irregularities that led to this month’s overwhelming PDP victory.

“People are not going to have confidence in the new government if there are these questions hanging over it. We want Nigerian government to work. It’s a huge trading partner for us. But the judicial system needs to be responsive. And going forward, I know the US has worked hard on capacity building, strengthening INEC. It can’t be viewed as an arm of the government or the ruling party. They’re never going to go back to the military days, nor should they. But the system could certainly work better than it does. And I’m sure the US government is going to try to provide assistance where they can,” he said.