- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

ABUJA, Nigeria — The main opposition candidate in Saturday’s presidential election demanded yesterday that last week’s parliamentary elections be rerun and warned of “mass action” if the voting is marred by fraud.”We’ve rejected the fraud associated with the April 12 election and ask for it to be repeated,” Muhammadu Buhari told reporters here, three days before a presidential election in which he is running.”We would like to emphasize that any repeat of the fraud of April 12 — of which we reject the totality — will result in mass action and consequences we cannot foresee.”But Gen. Buhari, the presidential candidate of the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), stepped back from a statement from his party chairman on Tuesday that the opposition had rejected the results from the entire parliamentary election.Instead, he said, the vote should be rerun in areas where there was evidence of ballot fraud. “This is a warning which those who do not mean well for Nigeria may choose to ignore,” said Gen. Buhari, who led a 1983 military coup that overthrew an elected civilian government.”We call on the National Assembly to reconvene immediately to pass a resolution to call on the president to desist from unconstitutional use of the military in the conduct of elections,” he said.”We call on the army, the police and local government functionaries to remain loyal to the people of Nigeria,” he added.His remarks followed the outbreak of localized protests Monday and Tuesday in two towns in the northern state of Katsina.Rioters burned an electoral office, and a home and a shopping center belonging to leading supporters of President Olusegun Obasanjo — also a retired army general — who is seeking a second term in Saturday’s presidential contest. But the opposition has stopped short of threatening to boycott the upcoming presidential and state gubernatorial voting, billed as the next test for Nigeria’s young democracy.Mr. Obasanjo’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was on course to win last weekend’s legislative election, Nigeria’s first civilian-run vote in 20 years, as the results continued to trickle in yesterday. With declarations in from more than three-quarters of constituencies, the PDP was leading, with 53 percent of the vote and 170 of the 287 seats so far declared in Nigeria’s 360-seat lower house. Gen. Buhari’s ANPP was trailing, with 81 seats and 27 percent of the vote.Opposition leaders and many independent observers charged widespread ballot-rigging and intimidation in last week’s voting, despite most foreign observer groups giving the election a cautious thumbs up.Gen. Buhari was to hold a news conference today alongside two other presidential candidates — former Biafran secessionist leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and former state Gov. Jim Nwobodo — his spokesman said.”The rigging and fraud that attended the collation of the results of the just-concluded election is so blatant that 1983 now looks like some child’s play,” said a statement from Gen. Buhari’s office, calling the election “a coup against democracy.” In 1983, Gen. Buhari seized power in an army coup less than four months after a notoriously fraudulent election. He ruled for less than 20 months before he was ousted in turn in a palace coup led by his army chief of staff. That was Nigeria’s last attempt to pass power from one civilian government to another.The Independent National Electoral Commission rejected the ANPP’s charge that the election was marred by “massive rigging.”“Nigerians are bad losers,” electoral commission spokesman Sam Okpo told AFP. “The grounds on which they claim the results should be canceled do not hold.”And Mr. Obasanjo’s camp reacted angrily, saying that Gen. Buhari’s move could damage Nigeria’s attempts to secure itself a democratic future.”This is one of the tragedies of African politics, in which losers refuse to accept defeat even when it is genuine,” Obasanjo campaign spokesman Akin Osuntokun told AFP.”Statements on such an event should not be made flippantly because of the danger it portends to the survival of our democracy,” he said.Last weekend’s vote was Nigeria’s first since the end of military rule in 1999 and Africa’s biggest ever, with more than 60 million registered voters spread across the continent’s most populous country.Monitors criticized the organization of the election, which began late in many areas, had no provision for voting in secret and in which vote counting was often conducted under opaque circumstances.”We were very pleased at the low level of violence. The question of how free and fair it was is a whole other set of criteria that has yet to be shown,” a U.S. State Department official said in Washington.Independent Nigerian monitors reported at least a dozen deaths, mainly in the southeast, along with gunbattles between factions, theft of ballot boxes, burned-down polling stations and attacks on party supporters.Nigeria’s electoral agency has admitted to some of these problems and is to conduct new elections in districts of three states where fraud was rampant.

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