Nigerians Set to Vote In Primaries in Step Toward Civilian Rule
Military has promised a return to democracy in late 1992
CAMPAIGN posters for state primary elections, scheduled for Saturday, have sprouted on market and shop walls and lampposts all over this packed, bustling city.Though Nigeria has been under military rule since 1985, the leadership has approved elections to pave the way for a promised return to a democratic, civilian government in late 1992. Yet, while the transition is on track, according to Nigerian officials, the train is running late. Some Nigerians wonder if the train will reach its final station, called "civilian rule," on the military's promised schedule. The independent daily Nigerian Tribune reported Wednesday that up to 300 people had been killed in violence between Christians and Muslims in Kano state, 570 miles northeast of Lagos, according to Reuters. The military has warned it may intervene, the wire service said. In Saturday's primary, voters will choose a slate of candidates for state governors and assemblies for the Dec. 14 election. Elections for president and the national assembly are to be held by September 1992. Several Nigerian and Western analysts point to three issues that will affect not only Nigeria's legacy of military rule, but also the agenda for return to civilian leadership: the electoral process, the economy, and human rights. Saturday's vote had been scheduled earlier, but was postponed when confusion arose over the creation of nine new states in late August, bringing the total number of states to 30. Some politicians had been calling for additional states to gain better representation for ethnic groups. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria's military ruler, says he authorized the new states to remove the issue "of creation of states from the political arena." In an address to the nation, he said: "We reaffirm our resolve to hand over power to a democratically elected government." Nevertheless, doubts linger. "I think the skepticism is still out there," says Onje Geyewado, an attorney and research fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), in Lagos. "But the president said [the transition] is irreversible, and we have no reason to doubt." To try to minimize the massive corruption of past military and civilian regimes, General Babangida has barred former politicians from running for office during the transition. But many Nigerians suspect the "moneybags" who influenced past regimes are secretly financing the new candidates. To try to minimize regional and tribal conflicts, Babangida has allowed only two civilian parties and has required both to be broadly based. But Mr. Geyewado says some candidates are trying to stir up long-standing tribal and Christian-Muslim tensions to win partisan support.
Criticism avoided So far candidates have focused on issues such as education, housing, and agriculture, says Geyewado, and have avoided strong criticism of the economic reforms to which the military is firmly committed. According to the World Bank, those reforms, which include selling off many state-run industries and shrinking the civil service, are spurring economic recovery. "There is real growth in the economy, in agriculture, and energy but also spreading into the industrial sector," says a World Bank official here. But some analysts disagree with the reforms. "Business is not booming: This is a depression," says a Nigerian economist who asked to remain anonymous. The package of reforms supported by the World Bank and the government "has not done much to help," he says. He points to growing unemployment caused by large layoffs in government and state-run industries. There is also a major mismatch between job training, he says, and jobs, with many liberal arts graduates unemployed. In addition, while Nigeria has a current yearly growth rate of 5 percent, it is partially consumed by rapid population growth, the World Bank official points out.
Population boom With a population estimated at nearly 120 million people - almost one-fifth of Africa's population - Nigeria is growing at about 2.9 percent a year, compared to 0.5 percent for developed countries, the Population Reference Bureau in Washington reports. Nigeria's oil production has bolstered its economy. While Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil fields were unusable during the Gulf war, Nigeria raked in extra revenue. A Western diplomat puts the windfall at "close to $5 billion." Nigeria's military rulers have been vague about the size of the windfall and are ambiguous when explaining where the money went, says the international economist. When William Keeling, of London's Financial Times wrote the windfall was about $5.2 billion, and that some $3 billion had not been accounted for, the military expelled him from Nigeria. The expulsion is just one example of how Nigeria "seems to have slipped" in human rights, the Western diplomat says. As another example, he cites the sudden bulldozing last year of Maroko, a Lagos beach-front slum of some 300,000 people. The Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) of Nigeria estimates some 15,000 homes, nine schools, two banks, churches, mosques, and ancestral shrines were destroyed, forcing residents to sleep under bridges and move to other shanty areas. The government claims the area was unfit for human habitation, while the diplomat says there is speculation the land is "going to be developed into luxury villas." Some people languish for years in Nigerian prisons, in wretched conditions, awaiting trial, the diplomat adds. "At least 2,000 persons die every year in the nation's prisons, mainly from malnutrition and disease," the CLO claimed in its annual report. The CLO also alleges some prisoners are tortured, and that press freedom is still inhibited by occasional arrests of journalists.