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Visit to Nigeria

By Jimmy Carter

Rosalynn and I flew to Nigeria with Richard Blum in his Gulfstream. We joined Chuck Costello of The Carter Center and Ken Wollack of the National Democratic Institute, who headed our joint teams that have been in Nigeria since October to observe local elections in December, state elections in January, and the election on February 20 for the National Assembly.

On this visit our purpose was to observe the presidential election on February 27. I had previously been in Nigeria in January to meet with the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the prominent candidates and chairmen of the three political parties, and other leaders. We consider this to be one of the most important elections to be held this year, because of the size and influence of Nigeria in the African continent and because of the need to end the history of military rule during 28 of the 38 years of national independence.

The delegation consisted of 66 persons from 10 nations, and my co-chairs were former Niger President Mahamane Ousmane and General Colin Powell. We were invited to participate as international observers by the Head of State and by INEC, and we received complete cooperation and support from the government and from the election commission. We also cooperated with other international and domestic observer groups.

We made previous reports of our observations of local, state, and national assembly elections to INEC and to the major political parties. Serious problems were observed in the National Assembly elections of February 20, partially caused by low voter turnout and the unknown status of many candidates who had been nominated by the political parties. Some ballot boxes were stuffed, election officials bribed, and the final results incorrectly tabulated. In addition to our normal reports, I wrote personal letters to the two presidential candidates asking them to urge their supporters to refrain from improprieties during the presidential election.

The nominee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was General Olusegun Obasanjo, former Head of State during the late 1970s. The other nominee, supported by the two other political parties, was Chief Olu Falae, a graduate of Yale University and former finance minister. Because of PDP victories in the previous elections and his support by powerful military leaders, it was generally assumed that Obasanjo was the favorite.

Two days before the election, our 66 observers were dispatched to their assigned locations in 20 of the 36 states. We tried to place the teams where problems had been detected and where their presence would be most beneficial.

Pre-election visit to the Niger Delta region:
Among the many crises faced by Nigeria are serious protests in the Niger River delta area by indigenous ethnic groups against the government and major oil companies, especially Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron. Beginning in 1990, the region has seen disruption of oil flows,kidnappings, murders, destruction of villages, and summary executions by the Abacha government in 1994 of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni compatriots.

There is almost unanimous agreement that the people in this oil-producing region have suffered from severe environmental degradation and a lack of fair allocation of funds necessary to meet their legitimate needs for schools, hospitals, housing, and other necessities. Unless resolved, the disputes could degenerate into an all-out war, arousing memories of the Biafra rebellion in the 1960s that cost 2 million lives. On my January visit, General Abubakar had suggested that I visit the area, meet with the dissident groups, and attempt to ascertain any possible avenues for peaceful resolution of the differences.

On February 26, Rosalynn, Chuck Costello, and I flew to Port Harcourt for meetings with representatives of the delta community. The region is a tinderbox ready to ignite; but, at the same time, we found all representatives, including those of the militant Ijaw youth, to be searching for a peaceful resolution of their grievances against the oil companies and the government.

This will have to be the result of a genuine dialogue, to include leaders who are chosen and trusted by the affected ethnic groups. Some of the issues are long-standing and complex and will require extensive negotiations, but the early commencement of these discussions could result in a cessation of hostilities and avoid a much more serious political confrontation.

The presidential election:
Our Carter Center/NDI teams assembled after the presidential election was over, some driving as long as 10 hours to Abuja, to share information about their observations.

Our teams visited a total of 335 polling stations and witnessed collation procedures at 33 ward, 20 local government, and 6 state levels. To summarize our assessments:

The election procedures were peaceful and, in general, polling officials were at their stations, election materials were on hand, and certification and voting began as scheduled. Poll officials seemed to be well instructed and capable of performing their duties. There were no reports of voters being intimidated, and the news media in Nigeria seems free and uninhibited. It is our opinion that there is an overwhelming desire among the Nigerian people to see an end to military rule and to have elected civilian leaders assume office on May 29. We are also convinced that the chairman and members of INEC and most local polling officials made their best efforts to ensure the integrity of the presidential election.

However, at polling sites in at least nine states, particularly in the South-South region that includes the Niger Delta, observed turnout during voting hours was sharply lower than later reported. For instance, in Bayelsa state, where about 20% of the registered voters were observed to have voted, official returns showed a 75% turnout, overwhelmingly for General Obasanjo.

In some cases, the final figures appeared to be so inflated that it was impossible to ascertain who actually won the election in that area. Our own team and a number of others witnessed instances of ballot box stuffing, with stacks of ballots in sequential order removed from the box -- all marked with the same fingerprint. After voting was completed, observers also saw instances of inflated tally sheets being substituted for the original ones. Less serious were technical errors, such as failure to use indelible ink, late arrival of ballots, and the absence of voting secrecy.

The national returns indicated a clear victory for Obasanjo (62% to 38%), but Falae quickly announced that the entire process was a "farce." INEC chairman Akpata described an appeals procedure established by law, which permits a challenging candidate to present evidence of irregularities to a panel of appellate court justices sitting as the Electoral Tribunal, with ultimate appeal of their decision to the Nigerian Supreme Court.

He said that the relatively late inauguration date of May 29 was chosen to permit any challenges to be resolved. We met with Chief Falae, who informed us that he would likely appeal the reported results but would urge his supporters to be peaceful and obey the law. He also stated he had little confidence in the Abacha-appointed head of the Supreme Court.

In addition to the more general statement of our combined observer group, I issued the following statement on behalf of The Carter Center: "There was a wide disparity between the number of voters observed at the polling stations and the final results that have been reported from several states.

Regrettably, therefore, it is not possible for us to make an accurate judgment about the outcome of the presidential election." Millions of fraudulent votes are included in the official INEC election returns.

The role of international observers is limited to witnessing the procedures and reporting observations to the public and to appropriate officials. The election process was seriously flawed, but we have confidence in the commitment of the Head of State to the transfer of political authority to elected civilian officials now that the independent chairman of INEC has promulgated election results as reported by state officials. The overriding consideration is to have a peaceful and orderly transfer of authority to a civilian government as scheduled, once any appellate process is completed.

Meeting with the Head of State: Before leaving Nigeria, we co-chairs met with General Abubakar and shared with him some of our concerns about the electoral process. He appreciated our efforts, expressed appreciation for the recent U.S. decision to certify Nigeria as an ally in fighting drugs, and urged me to encourage direct airline flights between Nigeria (preferably Abuja) and the United States.

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