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  REPORT - NIGERIA Independent National Electoral Commission on the 2007 General Elections
 

ALMOST A YEAR AGO ONE OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST OIL PRODUCERS, NIGERIA, HELD GENERAL ELECTIONS LEADING TO A HISTORIC FIRST HANDOVER OF POWER FROM ONE ELECTED PRESIDENT TO ANOTHER. OPPOSITION CANDIDATES CLAIMED THE ELECTIONS WERE RIGGED AND INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS SAID THEY WERE DEEPLY FLAWED, BUT LAST MONTH A JUDICIAL TRIBUNAL UPHELD THE VICTORY OF PRESIDENT UMARU YAR'ADUA
Tribunal validates 2007 presidential elections

Umaru Yar’Adua casts his vote in the election that made him President of Nigeria and produced landslide victories for the PDP in the federal and state elections.

INTERNATIONAL investors breathed a sigh of relief when a five-man tribunal sitting in Abuja ruled unanimously last month that the 2007 election of Umaru Yar’Adua as President of Nigeria was legal. The tribunal rejected claims from opposition candidates that the polls were rigged, ruling that, though the elections were imperfect, they were substantially in compliance with the law.

While the polls are likely to remain controversial and opposition candidates may appeal to the Supreme Court, the decision by the Presidential Election Tribunal appears to have averted a political crisis in the huge West African state, one of the world’s largest suppliers of oil. In geopolitical terms, Nigeria is regarded as one of the most important countries in sub-Saharan Africa, a key contributor to the economic and political stability of West Africa, which includes the key Gulf of Guinea oil-producing region.

Regarded in the West as a pariah state until 1999, when it replaced military dictatorship with elected government, Nigeria has since attracted increasing amounts of foreign direct investment, mostly into the oil and gas sector. Oil-rich, but with most of its rapidly expanding population living in poverty, it is the most populous nation in Africa, with one of the largest electorates in the world.

Last April, millions queued at polling stations to elect a new president, a new National Assembly, and governors and assemblies for the 36 states. Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission subsequently announced a series of landslide victories for the governing People’s Democratic Party. Umaru Yar’Adua, the chosen successor of President Olusegun Obasanjo, was declared the easy winner of the presidential race. The PDP also won overwhelming majorities in the upper and lower houses of the bicameral National Assembly, and 28 of the 36 state governorship contests.

The elections were notable for leading to the first successful transfer of power from one civilian regime to another since Nigeria gained its independence from Britain in 1960. Mr. Yar’Adua was sworn in on May 29, 2007, succeeding Olusegun Obasanjo, who had completed the constitutional maximum of two terms in office.

However, doubt was cast on the legitimacy of Yar’Adua’s presidency by allegations of malpractice and irregularities including ballot stuffing, intimidation and a shortage of millions of voting slips. There were claims that in many places voting did not take place at all. The U.S.-based monitoring group International Republican Institute said the election fell below acceptable standards. Opposition candidates said the polls were rigged and called for a rerun.

Since then, Nigeria’s Election Petition Tribunal has annulled the elections of seven of the state governors and ordered fresh polls to be held. Petitions for the nullification of the presidential election were filed by presidential candidates Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress.

The rejection of these petitions by the Presidential Election Tribunal last month has been welcomed by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the nonpartisan government agency that organized and supervised the elections, and which found itself at the center of the storm. It says it has been exonerated from the allegations made against it.

INEC has always claimed the elections were free and fair. In its official report, it described the elections as “a big leap in Nigeria’s democratic process.” INEC Chairman Professor Maurice Iwu said the polls reflected the intentions of voters and marked the birth of modern Nigeria.

The judges on the tribunal found no evidence that INEC had breached the electoral law in any way that substantially affected the conduct of the election or the result to the disadvantage of opposition candidates.