Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former military ruler, swept back to power as the state’s first elected civilian leader in 15 years.
Although the outcome of the presidential election was denounced by his only rival, Olu Falae, General Obasanjo’s victory – with a margin of at least 6.5 million votes and commanding 60 per cent of ballots cast – left most observers satisfied it was a fair outcome.
Chief Falae said in his home town of Akure: “From what I have heard so far, the election has been a farce. I said if General Obasanjo won a free and fair election I would congratulate him, but clearly this was not a free and fair election.” Reports from Akure, however, suggested the mood was more of resignation than defiance.
General Obasanjo, 61, was Nigeria’s military leader from 1976 to 1979. He presided over the election of the last civilian government, which was overthrown after four years. He inherits a country in deep economic crisis and torn by regional divisions.
Among his most challenging tasks will be to resolve the conflict in the oil-producing south, where militant local inhabitants have forced a big cut in Nigeria’s production of 2m barrels of oil per day in their campaign for a fairer share of revenues.
Although he will not be inaugurated until May 29, one early decision is critical – whether to endorse a recent IMF agreement that is an essential pre-condition to rescheduling Nigeria’s Dollars 29bn external debt and winning urgently needed loans.
Foreign observers had expressed concern over ballot rigging. But most concluded that both sides were to blame and said it had not significantly affected the outcome. Jimmy Carter, the former US president who jointly leads an American delegation, said: “There were some disparities noted.”
As expected, General Obasanjo fared badly in the ethnic Yoruba region of south-west Nigeria. Although both men are Yorubas, General Obasanjo is widely resented by his own people. Chief Falae’s strong showing could strengthen their calls for the autonomy of a region that includes Lagos. General Obasanjo did well in the north. The turnout was higher than 50 per cent of an estimated 40m voters.
Financial Times, August 20, 1999