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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
03ABUJA650
2003-04-07 23:07:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Abuja
Cable title:  

NIGERIA - OPPOSITION PARTIES IN MARCH MEETING

Tags:  PGOV KDEM PREL EAID NI 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ABUJA 000650 

SIPDIS


CAIRO FOR POL-J. MARKSTADT


DECL: 3/30/08
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PREL EAID NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA - OPPOSITION PARTIES IN MARCH MEETING
WITH AMBASSADOR


Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter for reason 1.5 (b).




1. (C) Begin Summary: During a March 10 meeting with
numerous opposition political party leaders,
Ambassador implored the group to do their utmost to
conduct fair and credible elections in April, to
eschew violence, and not to condemn and compromise the
process before it is started. He cautioned that West
Africa was already suffering an overdose of turmoil; a
downward slide in Nigeria would only compound the
region's troubles. The opposition party leaders
complained that INEC was simply an instrumentality of
the governing People's Democratic Party. (The PDP was
invited to the meeting but did not show.) They
denigrated INEC's elections preparation, particularly
its handling of voter's registration. The politicians
claimed that INEC was working to ensure that President
Obasanjo was reelected. Although avowing peaceful
intentions, the party leaders warned of unrest should
the President be returned through an electoral process
that, for them, has the appearance of an increasingly
stacked deck. End Summary.




--------------------------


INEC Cannot be Trusted


--------------------------






2. (SBU) Due to a gale of criticism by political
parties about the electoral process, the Ambassador
called a March 10 meeting of all political parties to
hear their views and to let them know USG expectations
regarding the electoral process. Although invited,
the ruling PDP did not attend.




3. (SBU) Ambassador Jeter emphasized that Nigeria was
entering an historic period, not only for itself but
the entire sub-region. With Cote d'Ivoire teetering
on the brink of a possible civil war and Liberia an
area of chronic turmoil, West Africa was awash in
instability, he stressed. While Nigeria is the giant
and leader in West Africa, a poor election here would
finish the region in the eyes of the world; therefore
these elections were not only important to Nigeria but
to West Africa and indeed the entire African
continent. Unfortunately, the Ambassador stated,
things were not proceeding smoothly. The political
violence being committed by all sides was a huge
problem; moreover, INEC's poor performance also was a
major concern. Furthermore, too many politicians had
made the leap from criticism of INEC'S poor
performance to accusing it of rigging. Politicians
might gain points among their partisans with the
accusations but they were also laying the groundwork
to have the elections seen as null and void even
before they were held. This was dangerous, the
Ambassador said. Not only could it delegitimize the
process and ultimately the elections, it could foment
post-election unrest and violence.




4. (SBU) The Ambassador called on all the parties to
work toward free, fair and credible elections. After
making this appeal, Ambassador Jeter and the USAID
Director then provided a brief overview of USG
electoral assistance.




--------------------------


Voter's Registration - A Chimera


--------------------------






5. (SBU) After thanking the Ambassador for hosting
the meeting, ANPP National Chairman Don Etiebet stated
that he "shared" the Ambassador's concerns. Then, in
effect, he did what the Ambassador cautioned against.
Etiebet claimed the elections would not be "credible,
free or fair." He declared that INEC was the agent of
the government and PDP. The Obasanjo Administration,
he claimed, was determined to win by any means despite
its patent unpopularity. The government was petrified
by a free and fair election because it would lose
handsomely; therefore, the Government and PDP would
resort to election trickery, violence and intimidation
to mask their shortcomings. Unfortunately, the very
agencies--the Police and State Security Service--that
could prevent foul play, are as deeply in the PDP
pocket as INEC, Etiebet contended.




6. (SBU) Etiebet went on to claim that ANPP
campaigning has been thwarted by PDP governors. The
governors claim to be the "commander-in-chief" of
their state with the army, police and SSS at their
disposal. They wield power but not popularity. If
they are reelected by a fraudulent process, the people
will denounce it. Etiebet asserted the elections in
1999 were "child's play" compared to the next four
weeks. While bereft of specific recommendations, he
asked that, in addition to election monitoring, the
international community become more involved now or
else be faced with doing "peace keeping" later.




7. (SBU) Etiebet and a few other opposition leaders
encouraged the USG to voice our concerns about the
election publicly. While the government would
chastise the United States for interfering in
Nigeria's internal affairs, statements of
international concern could have a positive effect and
would be supported across the political spectrum.




8. (SBU) Regarding security for the electoral
process, Ambassador Jeter mentioned he had recently
met Police Service Commission Chairman Okeke. At that
meeting Okeke stated his willingness to meet political
party officials to discuss the role of the police and
to underscore the police's neutrality. (Comment: That
meeting has since taken place under INEC's auspices.
The Police Services Commission plans to field its own
"monitors" to observe and regulate police behavior
during the elections. End comment.)




9. (SBU) The UNPP Chairman launched a broadside at
INEC, claiming it had fumbled voters registration. He
stated that INEC claims of having posted the voters
list in most states were fabricated, and that lists
were published in only a small fraction of local
government areas. Even there, INEC had problems. The
UNPP Chairman cited an example of people in a local
government in Borno State checking the list only to
find that the roster belonged to an area in Plateau
State. He claimed to have searched for a published
list in his ward but could not find one. With one
month to the election, he lamented the fact that, as a
national official of a political party, he was unsure
if he had been officially registered. The irony of
this statement was not lost on the meeting's other
participants who echoed similar concerns.




10. (SBU) The NDP Chairman announced that his party
had sued INEC for non-compliance with the Electoral
Act. He claimed that INEC was required to publish the
voters list prior to announcing the election date;
moreover, the list should have been published at least
sixty days prior to the election. To date, only three
states had completed and published their lists, he
claimed. Because of the failure of INEC to timely
post the list, holding elections in April would be
illegal. This was the issue on which the NDP had
taken INEC to court




11. (SBU) The APGA representative observed that the
PDP rarely attended INEC meeting with other political
parties. The PDP's absence led to the suspicion that
INEC was the guarantor of the PDP's interest; thus,
the PDP did not have to attend the meetings.
(Comment: In a subsequent meeting with the Ambassador,
the INEC Chairman refuted this allegation, claiming
that INEC calls frequent meetings with political
parties, but most fail to attend. We believe the
Chairman is telling the truth. End comment.) He also
questioned the transparency of the selection process
of local polling agents by INEC, complaining that
opposition parties had no input into the selection
system or eligibility criteria. The Resident INEC
Commissioner in a state unilaterally selected the
staff; in turn, that Commission was appointed by the
President. There was no check against the
Commissioner hiring a PDP loyalist. The selection
process was too subject to arbitrariness to produce a
good crop of polling officials. The ANPP Chairman
interjected that the real skullduggery would be at the
local level, particularly in remote areas. What
happens outside the spotlight, in the small hamlets
across the country, will determine the election;
deploying observers to Lagos, Abuja and Kano, in his
opinion, will not give one an accurate account.




12. (SBU) The Peoples Salvation Party Chairman
accused INEC of even changing parties' candidate list.
For reasons clear only to INEC, he said, names
announced by the Commission as the final party
candidates were not always those submitted by, in many
instances, the parties. The UNPP Chairman warned that
INEC planned to use polling stations on election day
different than the venues used for voters
registration. This would confuse voters and allow for
rigging at the new, unknown sites. To prevent this,
he demanded that INEC quickly publish a list of
polling stations and their locations. Thereafter, any
station not on the list, would be illegal and ballots
allegedly cast should not be recognized. (Comment:
INEC has performed poorly in many areas. In all
fairness, however, INEC has repeatedly announced that
the sites used for voters registration will be the
same locations used on election day. End Comment.)




13. (SBU) The Movement for Democracy and Justice
(MDJ) Chairman focused on the lack of voter education
as a major flaw. He stated this task should be the
joint responsibility of INEC and the parties.
Elaborating, he claimed that the parties could not
develop their election day deployment strategies
because INEC had not divulged the polling stations.
He feared a repeat of 1999 where many polling stations
in his state were designated at the last minute. He
also said the political parties needed to be better
educated about the role of the police, presiding
polling officers and other poll officials at the
voting stations. This knowledge was needed so that
political party agents could be informed observers but
also avoid running afoul of the police or polling
agents. (In the past, political party agents were
often falsely arrested and detained until after the
voting.) The MDJ Chieftain commented that the failure
of INEC to inform parties about the process for filing
complaints and objections on election day also was a
major flaw.




14. (SBU) The MDJ Chairman further warned that
declaration of results could be a problem. In
Nigeria, the media has a vital role to play but major
media houses were being financially influenced by the
Government. If the media prematurely declared a
result, this would be taken as a fait accompli by the
people; the other parties would be hard pressed to
overcome the perception created, even if inaccurate.
However, neither INEC nor the Ministry of Information
had informed the parties about the process for
disseminating the results, the Chairman declared.




15. (SBU) The Justice Party Chairman chimed in that
vote tabulation was fertile ground for fraud. He
suggested the political parties should be allowed to
monitor vote tabulation at every level from the local
polling station through the ward to the local
government headquarters, to the state and then the
national compilation. "If the political parties are
kept in the dark, that will be bad," he proclaimed.


16 (SBU) Ambassador commented that the USG was doing
what it could to enhance the integrity and speed of
the tabulation process. He mentioned IRI's training
of polling agents, the provision of tamper evident
envelopes and ballot box seals by IFES for the safe
transport of ballots and tabulations and the provision
of a satellite phone system to call in results from
approximately 150 of Nigeria's most isolated areas.
He also mentioned the IRI and NDI observer teams, and
the significant USG investment made in local
monitoring groups.




17. (SBU) The Head of the New Democrats (ND)
complained that the campaign playing field was
massively skewed. Mass media was in the hands of
government, and PDP campaign activities were being
aired liberally. In contrast, the PDP was paying the
media houses to black-out other campaigns; opposition
parties received only minimal coverage, which gave the
false impression of inactivity and weakness. He
claimed that the parties needed funding to counter the
PDP tactics. However, the PRP representative
counseled that the opposition parties should not be
quick in their indictment of the ruling PDP. "If
some of us were in power, we would be doing the same
thing," he admitted. Instead of complaining about the
PDP's media advantages, he suggested the other parties
explore creative, low cost ways to get their message
out. He asserted that TV and newspapers reached only
a small percentage of the population in any event, and
suggested the parties focus more on radio and poster
production.




--------------------------


VIOLENCE


--------------------------






18. (SBU) The National Secretary of Nigerian Action
Party (NAP) said he was frightened by the prospect of
more political violence. Violence was widespread and,
in many instances, the perpetrators were well-known.
However, these notorious criminals were allowed to
roam about with impunity. Because of the violence and
INEC's logistical shortfalls, he claimed the election
seemed artificial and imposed on the Nigerian public,
with a predetermined outcome seemingly at hand. The
government controlled both the mechanics and the
economics of the running an election and with that
advantage, it sought to unduly guide the outcome.




19. (SBU) The Chairman and Presidential candidate for
the African Renaissance Party argued that the election
was beyond repair. He called for an interim
government with the sole mandate to prepare for
elections within six months. (Comment: At this
meeting, few people endorsed his idea. However, at a
late March meeting of opposition parties, 15 backed
the interim government idea. This is symptomatic of
growing unease and disaffection with the elections.
End Comment.)




20. (SBU) Pointing to the high level of violence,
Ambassador Jeter asked if "the prize (winning the
election) was worth the cost?" He encouraged the
parties to endorse the Code of Conduct. He reminded
them that they all needed to behave with tolerance and
understanding. Election rigging by anyone was
inexcusable. However, the parties needed to recognize
that INEC started late and lacked resources; its
management of this massive logistical affair would be
less than ideal. They should not expect perfection
but they should work to make the process credible,
albeit awkwardly wrought. He added that this election
was also laying the groundwork for a more orderly
process in the future; precedents were being
established that would not have to be debated or
litigated in 2007. In essence, what was taking place
now was part of Nigeria's transition to democracy.




21. (SBU) While the attempt to computerize voters
registration was causing heartburn now, it would pay
dividends in 2007 and beyond, the Ambassador said.
Unfortunately, the computerization effort started late
and that had been a source of many problems in the
process. Also, the decision to allow over 30
political parties complicated logistics and threw off
the electoral schedule because the decision came late
in the sequence of electoral events. However, it
opened up the political space. In future elections,
both voters and prospective office-holders would have
a wider choice regarding where to place their
allegiance. The Ambassador said that there had been
lots of litigation, and ultimately that litigation
would pay off. (Comment: By March 31, all parties,
except the NDP and the largest two, the PDP and ANPP,
had signed the Code of Conduct. PDP and ANPP have
said they endorsed the Code but they were feuding over
which party should sign first. End Comment.)




22. (SBU) In concluding the meeting, Ambassador Jeter
mentioned that he would suggest to INEC Chairman that
INEC convene a meeting of party Chairmen and officials
from the GON security agencies to discuss ways to
tackle violence and upgrade electoral security.
(Note: This was done. End Note)




23. (C) Comment: Turn-out was excellent and the
meeting with the parties was most useful. We were
able to hear their concerns and grievances while also
expressing our expectations regarding the elections.
As the election moves even closer, anxiety is mounting
and the rhetoric becoming sharper. As we have been
doing already, we will use these final days before the
elections to continue to rush INEC. While it cannot
do much to redress the lapses with voter's
registration, many of INEC's previous sins will be
forgiven to the extent that the Commission can
credibly carry out its duties on election day and
tabulate the votes without cries of foul.
Additionally, we also plan to meet the Chairman of the
ANPP and PDP this week to urge them to sign the Code
of Conduct before the National Assembly elections on
April 12.
JETER