Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Bullets rule in Nigeria, not ballot boxes: study

GANG VIOLENCE Human Rights Watch says the country's last two elections were so marred by violence, fraud and administrative incompetence that they were not credible

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , DAKAR

A new report on Nigeria released on Tuesday by Human Rights Watch says that the wealthy political godfathers who financed an epidemic of election-related violence that killed at least 300 people in the flawed election last April are the real source of power in Africa's most populous nation.

After becoming a democracy in 1999 following lengthy, brutal military rule, Nigeria has experienced a long and rocky transition, with two deeply-marred elections -- in 2003 and April of this year -- and little meaningful development from the billions of dollars that flow from the country's vast oil reserves.

The election in April was so seriously affected by rigging, violence and incompetence that international observers said its results -- a resounding victory for the governing People's Democratic Party -- were not credible.

The report lays out in stark detail the contracts made between politicians seeking office and the rich kingmakers who back them in exchange for kickbacks from government coffers. It also describes the brutal means used by criminal gangs to sway elections, including intimidation and assassination.

Both the 2003 and this year's elections, it says, were marked by violence, fraud and administrative incompetence.

One state covered in the report, Anambra in the southeast, offers a particularly explicit example of the intersection of godfather politics and gang violence.

"In the primaries we carried axes and machetes and chased away any voters that came near while we were voting," said one member of a feared street gang that was used by political big wigs to sway election results, the report said.

"The authors of Anambra's worst abuses -- including murder, illegal possession of weapons and the wholesale rigging of the 2007 electoral process in the state -- continue to enjoy complete impunity for their crimes," the report contends.

Similar situations involving political arrangements among godfathers, politicians and gangs were detailed in the report in three other states, including regions in the largely Muslim north, the oil-rich Niger Delta and the restive southwest, home to the Yoruba people.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has admitted there have been lapses and he has pledged to reform the electoral system to stamp out abuses.

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