You could hardly blame Christopher Ani for not voting in Nigeria’s April elections.
A native Nigerian from the southeastern Enugu state, Ani, 34, has been living in Ghana, working as a street merchant, for the past four years.
He wants to go home to his family and friends, but can’t. The corruption that spawned violence during Nigeria’s most recent democratic exercise — it can only loosely be called an election — has been building for years.
“It is a waste of time; the way they conduct elections is by selection,” Ani said Tuesday, three days after the alleged president-elect, Umar Yar’Adua — chosen successor of outgoing president Olusegun Obasanjo’s People’s Democratic Party — declared victory with almost 73 per cent of the popular vote.
Yar’Adua’s closest rival won 6.6 million votes to his 24.6 million. The outgoing vice-president, who quit the PDP mid-term, placed third. Another 25 candidates split the crumbs.
But Nigeria’s chief independent monitor, Transition Monitoring Group, called for the results to be scrapped, saying that “ the election was a charade and did not meet the standards required for democratic elections,” according to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s World Service.
European Union observers said the polls “have fallen far short of basic international and regional standards for democratic elections and … cannot be considered to have been credible.”
A US watchdog called the results “flawed.”
Furthermore, the BBC reported at least 200 deaths at polls, including police and candidates, during regional and presidential elections over an eight-day period.
Unlike other African slaughters, the killings are not based on ethnic divisions, but political ones, said Ani.
“There were far more (deaths) than that.”
“There will be more violence. People will not allow Adua to rule because that is not their choice.”
When Yar’Adua called for unity Tuesday, opposition politicians called for a massive popular increase of the street protests that began V-day, April 21.
But anyone protesting runs the risk of being beaten up and thrown in jail, said Ani.
“People can’t protest peacefully like they can in Ghana.”
The 140 million Nigerians are divided into 389 ethnic groups with a major divide between the Muslim north and Christian south.
One in every five Africans is Nigerian.
Their nation is the economic epicentre of West Africa, far outdistancing its nearest challenger in the world’s poorest region — Ghana — in gross domestic product.
It’s wealth is due to petroleum. At present, Nigeria is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of crude oil.
But royalties from the resource don’t reach the population at large, said Ani.
“Life is far better (in Ghana) than in Nigeria, but Nigeria has far more money than Ghana.”
All West African nations struggle with energy needs, but given its oil wealth there’s no good reason why Nigeria should fare worse than most. But it does.
“You might be there for a month and there might not be light for two weeks,” said Ani.
“But when they bring you a bill at the end of the month you have to pay.”
There are four things one needs to live in Nigeria: water, electricity, petrol and a telephone, a French diplomat, who lived six years in different parts of the country, told me recently.
“Never did I have all four things at once,” said Christophe Carillon. “I was lucky to have two. It was rare that I had more than two.”
His eyes widened when I told him of my intention to travel through Africa’s most populous country, en route to neighbouring Cameroon.
Carillon smiled at my naivete.
Corruption in Nigeria exists on an almost unimaginable scale, he said.
Bribes to police and government officials, like customs agents, are a regular part of life, perhaps more so than anywhere else in Africa or even the world, with the real possibility of being thrown in jail dependent on a border guard’s whims, he said.
And in the overheated political climate of a recent election
“You’ll be very lucky if you make it in at all.”
Nigerians hoped the election might trigger some democratic reform.
But it was a small hope.
“We want revolution in Nigeria,” said Ani, citing recent examples from Eastern Europe, like Ukraine and the Czech Republic.
He can’t go home until things change.
Nigerians had high hopes for the outgoing president, who initially curbed corruption, but Obasanjo failed Nigeria, said Ani.
“Things changed for the worse. The situation there is not helping people.”
Yar’Adua is to be sworn in as Nigeria’s president May 29.
Former Yukon News reporter Graeme McElheran is currently living and writing in Ghana.