Chicago Tribune cites Findings of IRI Election Observers in Nigeria

Nigeria taps a winner amid vote controversy
Chicago Tribune
By Robyn Dixon 

LAGOS, Nigeria — Ruling-party candidate Umaru Yar’adua on Monday was declared the winner of Nigeria’s presidential elections amid widespread condemnation of ballot rigging, intimidation, violence and calls to cancel the results.

The main opposition candidates rejected the result as a sham. Muhammadu Buhari, who placed second in the official count, called it “the most blatantly rigged election results ever produced in Nigeria.”

President Olusegun Obasanjo ruled out a rerun of Saturday’s balloting, even as observers from the European Union and U.S.-based International Republican Institute found that the election failed to meet international democratic standards.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Curtis Cooper said the election was marked by “deplorable” levels of violence and “credible reports of gross malfeasance and vote rigging.”

“An analysis of the process by most international observers does not conform with what the Nigerian national election commission has reported,” he said.

Because Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and a top oil producer, its steps toward democracy reverberate across the region, said analysts.

The balloting, the first transfer of power from one civilian administration to another, was supposed to cement Nigeria’s democracy. But analysts said the optimism of 1999, when the country shrugged off decades of military rule to embrace civilian rule, has faded.

Yar’adua of the People’s Democratic Party won by a landslide, according to official results: 24.6 million votes versus 6.6 million for Buhari, a former military leader. Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was barred from running until the Supreme Court gave him the green light just days before the balloting, had 2.6 million votes.

In comments on state television, Yar’adua, 56, said that he was humbled by his victory but that he had expected to win. “I did, because my party is strong and we enjoy the goodwill of the Nigerian people,” he said.

Obasanjo conceded in a televised address that the election was marred by multiple voting, ballot-box theft and logistical problems. He said dissatisfied parties could take legal action through election tribunals designed to resolve disputes.

Obasanjo was barred from seeking a third term by the constitution. He is scheduled to relinquish office May 29 to Yar’adua, a Muslim and former chemistry teacher who comes from an elite political family in the northern state of Katsina.

Human Rights Watch spokesman Christopher Albin-Lackey said the vote was stolen in “a truly devastating blow” for Nigeria’s development as a democracy. Local observers demanded new balloting.

“Vote rigging and violence and intimidation were so widespread that it’s impossible to conclude anything but that the rights of Nigerian voters were stolen from them in the most brazen possible fashion,” Albin-Lackey said.

The European Union reported that at least 200 people died in election violence from April 14-21.

Innocent Chukwuma of the Transition Monitoring Group, the main Nigerian observer group, said it would be difficult for political parties to appeal the results, because there were no results sheets available in most of the polling stations where rigging took place.

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