April 24, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In a feature commentary published today in the online edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, comments on the elections in Nigeria where voters went to the polls on April 14 to choose state governors and legislators and then again on April 21 to elect a new president, vice president, and parliament. Dr. Pham returned to the United States yesterday after serving as a U.S. delegate on the international team monitoring the electoral exercise.

Dr. Pham writes, that “the consensus of international and domestic observers is that the presidential and legislative polls last Saturday, as well as the elections for state governors and legislators on April 14, were seriously flawed.” Dr. Pham notes that he “personally saw police and other officials openly ‘helping’ voters to mark their ballot papers for the ruling PDP [People’s Democratic Party].” Dr. Pham also reports:

Observing the voting in southeastern Benue State, the agricultural breadbasket just north of the oil-rich Niger Delta region...I also found entire areas whose residents professed support for the ANPP [All Nigeria People’s Party], the AC [Action Congress], or other opposition groups, where the polls never even opened, including a township outside of Makurdi that should have had six polling stations to accommodate some 5,000 registered voters. Instead, while no polling officials or materials ever arrived, a truckload of police in riot gear did show up to disperse the angry would-be electors. Towards the end of the election day, at a polling station just two blocks from where my colleagues and I were observing the vote tally, armed gunmen shot an election official and made off with the ballot box (nationally, some 200 people lost their lives to similar poll-related violence). All in all, I cannot help but concur with the judgment offered by [the European Union’s chief observer Max] van den Berg when he was asked if the irregularities represented an orchestrated attempt to rig the result: “In several places, yes, and in others, very magic results.”

However, Dr. Pham observes, “the last thing Nigeria—and the world—needs at this moment is this type of ‘magic.’” While the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission declare Monday the PDP’s Umaru Musa Yar’Adua the winner of the presidential race by what the author called “vote tallies which are reminiscent of the old Soviet bloc” (for example, INEC data has the ruling PDP winning 96 percent of the vote in Delta State, 95 percent in Ebonyi State, 90 percent in Edo State and 94 percent in Imo State), Dr. Pham argues that “the combination of a widespread perception of lack of legitimacy and an already unstable national situation with political, ethnic, and religious tensions increasingly exploited by radical outside elements is a recipe for open explosive conflict.”

Dr. Pham concludes: “It will not be too long before we find out whether Nigerians will once again demonstrate their incredible national capacity to pull themselves back from the brink or whether the vast natural and political resources which the West African nation has at its disposal will be wasted in an increasing spiral of internal conflict, violence and decline.”

The text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “ Nigeria: Crisis of Legitimacy,” can be accessed online by clicking here.