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Nigerian democracy growing up

April 10, 2011

NIGERIA-ELECTIONS/A ruling party’s acceptance that it will sometimes do badly in elections as well as win them can be a sign of how well democracy is taking root.

In that regard, Nigeria’s national assembly election already shows some progress.

The mere fact they happened was a big relief to a lot of Nigerians after multiple postponements and a bloody run-up.

The fact that they so far appear to be some of the best anyone can remember is an unexpected bonus.

Having covered various elections in Nigeria since the mid-1990s, I’ve never seen one with so few reports of ballot stuffing, bullying or other forms of rigging or where there was so little rancour at the voting stations.

It’s not to say that things went perfectly, but the imperfections of the past dwarfed what we saw at this vote. Many had believed Nigeria could never hold a credible election and this could help to answer such critics. Africa’s giant might even set an example for the continent.

Early this morning, I was at one of the centres outside Abuja where figures are tallied up.

Everyone had been there overnight. Everyone had been laboriously noting down the results. Everyone was satisfied with the way things had gone – even the losers, which in these wards included the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

“There is no instance of trying to rig, that’s why the other parties are moving in,” said one ruling party representative, Theodore Ochei. “Even if we lost as a party, we as politicians have more respect. Our leaders might sit up and begin to respect people’s views.”

Perhaps.

The latest figures show the PDP set to see its majority weakened substantially in parts of Nigeria – something the party’s leaders in the past would certainly have found impossible to stomach.

While some Nigerians might be worried by the trend of regionalisation that the vote shows up, it does suggest votes actually had some bearing on those who were elected.

It should be remembered that this is still only one vote.

The presidential election is next Saturday and state governorship ones follow after that. The stakes in those are higher and the national assembly elections will certainly come as a warning to those in power.

The question is whether they will campaign more determinedly, but accept a process that few had believed could be so effective or start working harder to subvert it.

Picture: A Nigerian Youth Corps worker counts ballots as voters watch in Lagos. REUTERS/Nick Tattersall

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