In three weeks, Nigerians are scheduled to realize their first civilian leadership succession from one administration to another since independence 47 years ago.  The International Crisis Group is the latest foreign affairs conflict prevention organization to make note of what?s at stake if Nigerian voters see the results of this election as fraudulent or illegitimate.  The group?s Africa advocacy staff has just released a report with recommendations on how to avoid such a political crisis.  Crisis Group Senior Vice President Mark  Schneider outlines some of the greatest threats that could jeopardize the vote.

?Unfortunately, there has been a tendency on the part of President Obasanjo to press for either his reelection or his desired successor.  And so the question really is whether in the next several weeks, he?ll permit the process to unfold without interference.  There?ve been, unfortunately, in the past months, restrictions on the finances of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). There have been some restrictions on the parties.  The security forces have engaged in some intimidation.  So these are the kinds of things that hopefully will end, and the parties will have the opportunity to run their candidates and carry out the elections,? he said.

Among the International Crisis Group?s recommendations is the immediate dispatch of a joint mediation team from the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to help resolve a dispute between the President and Vice President  Atiku Abubakar, who has been barred from the Electoral Commission?s list of approved candidates.  Schneider says that summoning Nigeria?s regional partners is an effective way of promoting solutions that respect the Electoral Commission?s independence to act fairly and execute its mandate.

?President Obasanjo has been a strong supporter of regional and Africa-wide intergovernmental organizations and their role in facilitating dialogue where there are the potential for disputes to produce violence.  And hopefully, in this case, he would encourage the AU and ECOWAS to be a source for encouraging peaceful resolution of those disputes.  And whoever wins, that they would be available to assist the National Electoral Commission and the judiciary in resolving potential disputes,? he said.

Other recommendations outlined in the report include impartial adjudication of electoral disputes and consistent interpretations of the constitution by the country?s judiciary, close cooperation with security agencies to maintain neutrality with all parties and candidates and curb electoral violence, full access to international monitors and election observers, and efforts to encourage religious and civil society groups to educate voters in the electoral process and promote meaningful dialogue and debate.  The report singles out the potential for election instability among militant groups in the oil-rich Niger Delta.  It argues that discredited elections could diminish any opportunity for a peaceful settlement and improved governance and could prompt Delta militant groups to step up their anti-government insurgency.