Nigeria and the G8: time for action

Christopher Albin-Lackey Ben Rawlence
6 June 2007

At the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, on 6-8 June 2007, leaders of the world's richest countries will reaffirm their desire to promote democracy and development on the world's poorest continent. But at the same time, they risk undermining those ideals by welcoming Nigeria's fraudulently elected president into their midst as a partner. Unless the G8 countries use the occasion of the summit to speak out on Nigeria, they risk doing real damage to their own goals in Nigeria and across the continent.

Christopher Albin-Lackey is Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch

Ben Rawlence is consultant to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch

Also in openDemocracy on the G8, development and Africa:

openSummit – Women talk to the G8, an openDemocracy blog

Roselynn Musa, "Globalisation's broken promise"
(23 May 2007)

Patricia Daniel, "Open letter to G8: gender at the top of the agenda"
(31 May 2007)

Tina Wallace, "G8: the aid gap" (5 June 2007)

Umaru Yar'Aduda, who became president of Nigeria on 29 May 2007, won't be the only newcomer at this year's summit. He was elected one day before France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has signalled support for a shift away from France's tolerance of abusive governments in Africa. In Nigeria, however, the election of 21 April was marked by unprecedented cheating and political violence that has put the future of the country's fragile democracy in serious jeopardy.

Since Nigeria broke free of military rule in 1999, each of its elections has been more fraudulent and violent than the last. The April poll that brought Yar'Adua to power marked a new low. His party shamelessly rigged the election without bothering to conceal the deed. Ballot-boxes were stolen by gangs of thugs in the employ of politicians; party officials openly engaged in vote-buying and the intimidation of voters at the polling-booths; and ballot-box stuffing went on in the broad light of day after voters had been chased off.

Nigeria's election reflected a crisis of governance that threatens to compound an already-dismal situation. Nigeria is beset with deep-rooted human-rights problems. These include widespread inter-communal violence and the routine use of torture by state-security forces. Corruption remains rampant, especially at the state and local levels. Despite record oil revenues, tens of millions remain mired in poverty and several hundred thousand Nigerian children die each year from diseases the government could easily afford to prevent.

Nigeria has sunk to the depths it now occupies in part because a lack of meaningful western criticism or pressure in the face of all these failures. Perhaps most glaring, western governments were largely uncritical in response to rigged elections in 1999 and 2003 that laid the groundwork for the disastrous April 2007 poll.

The April election was a gesture of contempt for western governments' rhetorical demands for good governance, and an open insult to Nigeria's would-be voters. Foreign and domestic election observers, including a large team fielded by the European Union, were unanimous in condemning the process and many seasoned election observers said that Nigeria's poll was among the worst anywhere in the world in recent times. But western governments have not been nearly as critical as the observer missions they sponsored, confining themselves to mild expressions of disappointment that have not been followed up by even the slightest of tangible responses.

Also in openDemocracy on Nigeria's politics and economics:

John Adeleke, "Africa's redevelopment needs: a Nigerian perspective"
(8 July 2005)

Dan Hoyle, "'We made it peaceful': oil politics in the Niger delta" (10 November 2005)

Olly Owen, "The contested rights of the Niger delta"
(18 November 2005)

Ron Singer, "Nigerian futures: interview with Wole Soyinka"
(25 August 2006)

Timothy Sowula, "The Niger delta: how to lift the oil curse? "
(19 October 2006)

Godwin Nnanna, "Nigeria: the real democratic test"
(20 April 2007)

With corrupt politicians dishonestly propelled into office in the capital and across many of Nigeria's thirty-six state governments, Nigerians are concerned about facing several more years of abusive and unaccountable governance. Nigeria is invited to the G8 summit precisely because of its influence and stature across Africa, the same reasons why the example set by its elections is so dangerous. If Nigeria suffers no consequences for the theft of its election it will make it harder to persuade governments in Africa and elsewhere that there are any real teeth behind efforts to promote good governance in their countries.

If the G8 governments are serious about promoting good governance in Africa, they must make it clear that right now the Nigerian government is more part of the problem than it is part of the solution. There may be good reasons for including Yar'Adua at the summit, but he cannot be treated as a trusted partner in tackling the problems that his administration represents.

G8 countries should use the occasion of the summit to demand that Yar'Adua begin repairing Nigeria's battered prospects by making government more transparent and accountable. To begin with, Nigeria should immediately pass its long-delayed freedom-of-information bill to make it harder for government officials to conceal basic information on corruption and human-rights issues. Nigeria should also take radical steps to make its electoral institutions and law enforcement agencies more transparent and better able to resist political manipulation. Taking a stand could help create momentum for change and lend moral support to the many Nigerians fighting to promote reform at home.

If, instead, western governments continue to coddle Nigeria's corrupt and abusive government, they will signal to the whole continent that all their talk of good governance in Africa remains precisely that: just talk.

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