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Trip Report on Nigeria

By Jimmy Carter

I have been visiting Nigeria for 20 years and have an affinity for the nation and appreciation for its great potential. Since its independence in 1960, Nigerians have enjoyed civilian governments for less than 10 years, and for 28 years some benevolent but mostly oppressive and corrupt military regimes. Despite this, Nigeria has been the most influential country in West Africa, and often very helpful in recent years in maintaining stability and even promoting democracy in the region. We have seen this in the disarmament of military factions and support of democratic elections in Liberia in July 1997.

The almost five-year despotic regime of the late Sani Abacha was replaced last June by the enlightened administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. He has released political prisoners, reduced the influence of corrupt military officials, honored human rights, and orchestrated an ambitious schedule to reestablish a civilian system of government throughout the nation.

Our Carter Center team has been on site since September, working in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI); and I decided to join them to prepare for national assembly (2/20/99) and presidential elections (2/27/99). Chuck Costello, director of our Democracy Program worldwide, joined us en route home from the first-ever monitoring of township elections in China.

There are some serious problems in Nigeria. Violence in the southeast delta region continues. Also, Nigerians have not decided which of several basic constitutions will be adopted, with important implications for federalism. The economy is in a shambles, and corruption is still rampant. Despite all these factors, there seems to be reasonable confidence that Head of State Abubakar will carry out his promise of fair elections and that he can control the military.

There is almost universal support for choosing a civilian government. In Lagos, we had a thorough briefing from our Carter Center-NDI team, who have been in Nigeria to observe local elections in December and state elections early this month. The procedures were increasingly acceptable, but there are some serious technical problems remaining. Even at this late date, four weeks before the national assembly election and five weeks before the presidential election, none of the national candidates has been nominated, and procedures for their selection have not been adopted. These decisions could disrupt the existing harmony among the major contenders.

Political parties:
The more centrist People's Democratic Party (PDP), supported at least tacitly by most all military leaders, elected 20 of the 36 state governors, primarily in the central and southeast regions; the All People's Party (APP), alleged to be more closely associated with former dictator Sani Abacha, won nine state elections in the northeast and northwest regions; and the more liberal Alliance for Democracy (AD) party prevailed in six states, with solid victories in the Yoruba southwest. Because of the perceived strength of the PDP, serious discussions are underway about an alliance or merger of the AD and APP, with a general belief that the presidential nominee will come from AD. These decisions are likely to be made next week. All three major parties are seeking support from smaller political organizations that did not meet the criteria for mounting campaigns.

Likely Presidential Candidates:
The best known candidate is former general and head of state Olusegun Obasanjo, who was embarrassed when his PDP made a dismal showing in his home state. He is being challenged vigorously for the party's nomination by former vice-president Alex Ekwueme. The two leading candidates of the APP are Dr. Olu-sola Saraki and wealthy businessman Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. The AD is likely to chose one of two chiefs from the southwest, either Olu Falae or Bola Ige. The deadline for these nominations is February 15.

Election Commission:
The Independent Nigerian Election Commission (INEC) seems to be firmly in control and is seeking to correct some problems that became apparent during the two previous elections. Indelible ink has never been acquired, and other means to prevent multiple voting have been unsuccessful.

1/20 - We had a full day, meeting with the Governor-elect of Lagos State, presidential candidates of the AD and PDP parties, trade unionists, religious and human rights leaders, and representatives of the Transition Monitoring Group, an organization of NGOs and human rights activists who are recruiting domestic election observers. NDI has trained 600 trainers, who in turn will train several thousand other observers. So far, 800 of them have received INEC credentials. They hope for 10,000 for the national election, but INEC has been somewhat reluctant to encourage this effort.

All the AD officials seem certain of the merger with APP and are confident of a victory, especially if Obasanjo is their only opponent and they can run against him as a former general who is unpopular in his home community. Obasanjo doesn't think the merger will take place, and Ekwueme is doubtful. AD will choose candidates through consensus, following recommendations from 20 senior party officials. The PDP intends to hold a primary among its members on February 6 to select its presidential candidate.

In the evening I spoke to about 100 prominent guests at the chargé d'affaires' residence. 1/21 - In Abuja, we were briefed by the embassy staff under Ambassador Bill Twaddell, whom we have known and admired for his work in Liberia. We then met with the 14 members of the Election Commission, chaired by Dr. Ephrahim Akpata, a distinguished and revered former Supreme Court justice.

I questioned them closely about the still-evolving rules concerning party mergers, requirements for selecting candidates and for achieving victory, the training of adequate poll workers, certification of domestic observers, the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, and other issues that had been raised at previous meetings and not adequately explained. The INEC is obviously determined to correct previous mistakes and to be flexible regarding the desire of AD and APP to join behind one national ticket.

Next we visited the Military War College and Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution. After full military honors and ceremonies, we had a good exchange about the necessity-in Congo, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and even in Nigeria's delta area-to combine military capability with effective mediation efforts. At least tentatively, we agreed with their request for The Carter Center to cooperate with Nigerian efforts in the West African region. Military officers appeared eager for a renewal of contacts with military counterparts.

In the evening, Ambassador Twaddell hosted a remarkable supper, with the top political and religious leaders of the nation. At my table, for instance, were the three national party chairmen (Chief Solomon Lar (PDP), Senator Mahmoud Waziri (APP), Chief Ayo Adebanjo (AD), Usman Jibrin and Bashir Sambo (two preeminent Islamic leaders), and Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan. We had a lively discussion, indicating more clearly that AD and APP will merge, and casting doubt on a primary to choose the PDP nominee. There are strong efforts to seek common ground between the two religions (about 50 percent Moslem, 40 percent Christian) in Nigeria.

The most heated discussion came when I asked about solutions to the violent confrontations in the delta region. Everyone agreed that massive assistance was due the people there, but that oil company and government indifference combined with corruption were the causes of the problem. PDP carried all the delta states, and Lar was somewhat defensive, but Adebanjo was extremely critical of the government and oil companies and sympathized completely with the militants on self-development aspirations.

In my opening comments, I teased the assembly because I was introduced as a farmer, poet, author, professor, military professional, scientist, and politician, but loud applause came only for the word "politician." I guess that this is now the most important subject in Nigeria.

1/22 - After meeting with APP candidate Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, we went to the State House for a session with the Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. In all my dealings with him, he has been frank and honest and has fulfilled all his commitments. We first exchanged information and congratulations about progress toward civilian rule and his honored promises concerning human rights, and he expressed appreciation for our Guinea worm and river blindness efforts.

I emphasized to Abubakar and the foreign minister the legal requirement that at least four extradition cases must be resolved before the end of next month in order for the U.S. to look favorably on the drug decertification issue; but they only promised to get a legal report on the issue. In a private discussion, the Head of State offered help on Guinea worm, and I later sent him detailed information on the program and a request for some financial assistance. Abubakar also said that he needs help in dealing with the dissidents in the Niger River delta area, who are increasing their demands for secession and a separate nation, and he suggested that I might meet with them in February.

Back in Lagos, I met with Lions leaders who have been helping with our river blindness program. I then met with a group of Nigeria's most influential businesspeople, who have completed a thorough analysis of the nation's future known as Vision 2010, including all aspects of society. I had spoken to the assembled group on a previous visit. They outlined some of the problems they face and requested help from our Center, perhaps through workshops arranged by an American university.

Among many other things, they pointed out that, after years of military rule, most public officials now being elected have never had a chance to hold public office and that the quality of universities needs restoring. They asked for help in shaping a proper pay scale for public servants and reducing the present excessive size of bureaucracies, defining a permanent role for the military, privatizing government-owned industries, and defining some manpower training programs. The local business community can provide substantial funding for these efforts, but they also will need external support.

After a packed press conference with almost all questions about the political process, we had supper and then began our 24-hour journey home.

I believe we achieved the objectives of my visit - support for the transition underway - and every indication is that the electoral process will lead to a peaceful transfer of power from the military to a civilian president and national assembly on May 29.

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