What Lessons Should Liberia Learn From Ivory Coast… And Now, Nigeria?
hortly after the presidential run-off election results were announced in 2005, George Weah, the candidate for the Congress for Democratic Change and his political group took to the airwaves to reject the results, expressing concerns that the elections were rigged.
Even in the wake of international observers’ claims that the elections were free and fair, Weah said his party had been "cheated. Weah went on to say that ballot papers were pre-marked in favor of his rival, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the National Elections Commission tally sheets in his party's possession "showed that the process was pervaded.
Despite Weah’s claim of fraud and foul, the football legend kept his supporters away from violence, saying: "Public demonstrations in the streets of Monrovia or elsewhere in protest of the run-off election results is not expedient; it is not good for our fragile peace; it might even be counter-productive to the legal bid we have put in motion at the National Elections Commission.”
Hours after the first round, supporters of the opposition Liberty Party were silently crying foul, suggesting that their candidate was denied a place in the second round. Others even pointed to a sinister conspiracy by regional leaders to deny Brumskine victory.
This week, Nigeria is burning in yet another post-election violence amid spurts of riots. On Tuesday, rioting broke out for the second straight day in the Muslim North, a day after protesters set fire to churches and homes of ruling party supporters when official results from the national election showed that the Christian incumbent had won the vote. But two of the country’s biggest opposition parties issued formal complaints over vote tallies from the oil-rich nation's presidential election. The party of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and the party of former anti-corruption czar Nuhu Ribadu announced the complaints Monday as vote-counting appeared to be drawing to a close. The substance of the complaints was not immediately known. Election chairman Jega announced results Monday night that showed Jonathan won 22.4 million votes, compared to the 12.2 million votes of his nearest rival, the former military ruler Buhari.
Ivory Coast, another Liberia’s neighbor also endured a series of post-election upheavals which led to the killing of scores of Ivorians in what was an escalation of the power struggle between forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and to his rival Alassane Ouattara, who won the 28 November presidential election. The crisis which spurred a spill of refugees into Liberia appears to have subsided following the capture last week of Gbagbo.
For many political observers, post Elections violence in Africa is certainly becoming a worry, especially in the aftermath of the Ivorian elections and now Nigeria. In Monrovia, a sampling of residents drew mixed reactions over recent upheavals in Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
Nigeria ‘Probably the most transparent’
John S. Morlu, out-going Auditor General of Liberia who was assigned in the Lagos as an election observer from the U.S.-based International Republican Institute says for the most part, the elections in Nigeria was transparent at best and fair.
Says Morlu: “It was probably the most transparent elections I have ever watched. It was fair.”
Election handing hailed
Morlu says a key reason why the elections in Nigeria was considered fair is because the President, Jonathan Goodluck was willing to put the country first. “You have a president that was willing to put the country first and actually appoint someone who is one of the most respected and possessed the highest level of integrity to head the Independent National Elections Commission in Atahiru Jega. As a result, it was widely applauded by Nigerians and international partners.”
Jega put his stamp on the electoral process by directing his presiding officers to paste results of elections at the polling units as demanded by the electoral procedure and was consistent in stating that it was necessary to guarantee transparency and ensure greater fairness in the polling process. "Once the results were tabulated, they must be pasted, because this is in order to bring additional credibility in the polling process," Jega said.
Jega’s handling of the electoral process appears to have paid off, even drawing praise from the head of Liberia’s elections commission, James Fromayan who hailed the fact that everyone was allowed to participate without intimidation and molestation.
But Morlu says Jonathan had set the pace and almost every Nigerian he (Morlu) spoke to about the elections showed confidence in the INEC chairman. “He(Jonathan) wanted clean and fair elections and urged Nigerians not to cheat for him. He lost lot of seats in parliament but he was urging parties not to rig elections. Today, Nigeria has probably the most independent national elections chairman. He had all the resources and there were no interference in his work. He even postponed elections without much quarrel from rival politicians.”
While some are giving high marks to the Nigerian elections, others are wary. C. Afamah Kwennah, a University of Liberia Graduate sees worrisome signs. “it is a worrisome situation for the entire region because as you have seen West Africa have been experiencing Civil war quit recently and countries are just recuperating, like Sierra Leone.”
Kwennah says, Nigeria being Africa’s biggest democracy must not begin to go that route it is proceeding at the moment. “I believe that this process have been praised by the international community, they were the very ones who praised the process, so I want to believe that level of fraud to some extent has been minimum. More besides I don’t share the view that if people are displeased over results of elections must start violence, violence has never in the past solved our problem and it cannot do so now.”
Melvin Garpeh, a lecturer in Public Administration at the Universit says she strongly believes that the idea must not be promulgated in any part of Africa especially after elections results are announced. Says Garpeh: “Demonstrations globally are the ingredients to anarchy and it does not offer well because our own case and the historical analysis post elections violence it not good for any democracy. You saw what happened back in 1980 and 1979 demonstration have never helped Africa, whether it was peaceful or not. One it comes to Nigeria I do not support any form of violence in that country because that is not the best methodology in moving any country forward.”
In Nigeria, precautions were still being taken Tuesday to over fears of reprisal attacks. The Nigerian Red Cross said hundreds had been wounded in the postelection violence and that rioting continued Tuesday in the town of Kaduna. According to the Associated Press, soldiers had set up a military checkpoint about nine miles (15 kilometers) south of the restive city, where a bomb blast hours after the Saturday vote had wounded eight. In a televised address to the nation Monday, President Jonathan said that "nobody's political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian."
But that did not stop supporters of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari who were accused of setting fire to homes of ruling party members in several areas across the north. Police said an angry mob also engineered a prison break.
Christian vs. Muslims
In the northern town of Kano, Rev. Lado Abdu was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that three churches had been set ablaze by angry demonstrators. An armed mob at a bus station also threatened another evangelical pastor before a Muslim man nearby spirited him to safety. "What brought together religion and politics?" Rev. Habila Sunday said in the local Hausa language. "I want to know why when politics happen do they burn churches?"
Thousands have been killed in religious violence in the past decade in Nigeria, which is Africa's most populous nation. But the roots of the sectarian conflict are often embedded in struggles for political and economic dominance.
While Christians and Muslims have shared the same soil in the nation for centuries, the election result showing the Christian president's more than 10 million-vote lead over Muslim candidate, Buhari spread accusations of rigging in a nation long accustomed to ballot box stuffing.
Nigeria has a long history of violent and rigged polls since it abandoned a revolving door of military rulers and embraced democracy 12 years ago. Legislative elections earlier this month left a hotel ablaze, a politician dead and a polling station and a vote-counting center bombed in the nation's northeast. However, observers largely said Saturday's presidential election appeared to be fair, with fewer cases of ballot box thefts than previous polls.
Key to success: Free, Fair elections
In the wake of violent spurts in Ivory Coast and Nigeria, Liberia’s election is already on the horizon. But with many anticipating a long, drawn out fight, political observers say the key for a successful, free and fair elections could be drawn from signals being shown in Ivory Coast and now Nigeria. Regardless of the outcomes in these two countries, some observers point to the fact that the national elections commission in Liberia should adapt to changing realities, beginning and ending with a transparent process.
Morlu explained Tuesday that in some polling places, Nigerians themselves made it a duty to ensure that the process free and fair. “I asked one Nigerian election worker whether he was tempted to cheat and he told me, he could not cheat his future. “The young people were enthusiastic and unwilling to cheat. There was no chance you could double vote. There was no way one person could vote in two places. Results were counted and observed by party agents who were required to sign that the election was free and fair. So I don’t how one could cheat. Everybody was involved in the process from beginning to the end. Even in America, I have never seen anything like that. Results were posted immediately.”