The French presidential election was not the only big election on Sunday: Nigerians also voted for a new president, with Umaru Yar’Adua of the ruling People’s Democratic Party yesterday declared the victor.
One day, perhaps, who runs Nigeria will seem more important than who runs France. Nigeria is larger, has about twice as many people, is rich in natural resources and overshadows its neighbours much more than France does. But for now, its influence in world affairs is much less, and its GDP somewhere around one-tenth that of France.
Sunday’s election was a good illustration of Nigeria’s problems. On paper, it has been governed democratically since 1999: the two four-year terms of president Olusegun Obasanjo, who was also a military ruler in the 1970s. This year was to be the first ever transition from one elected leader to another.
So far it is not going well. Yar’Adua is supposed to have won with 72.1% of the vote, which, against 25 opponents, is too high to be credible. His two main challengers, Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, have both rejected the result as rigged, and EU election observers said “the process cannot be considered to have been credible”.
It’s not unlikely that the PDP would win a fair election. By the standards of his predecessors, Obasanjo’s regime has been reasonably clean and open. But that’s setting the bar very low, since Nigerian rulers in the 1980s and ’90s were notorious for corruption on a massive scale.
There have already been an estimated 200 people killed in election-related violence, but observers are not expecting an outbreak of popular indignation sufficient to challenge the government’s control. Traumatised by a bloody civil war in the 1960s and by years of dictatorship since, Nigerians appear to have low expectations of government.
Size itself may well be part of the problem. If the civil war had succeeded in splitting Nigeria into more manageable units, it’s quite possible that their subsequent history would have been less unfortunate.
But for now, this flawed attempt at democracy seems to be as good as Nigeria is going to get.