Feb. 15, 1999
Volume 51, No. 20
Carter Center Update
The Carter Center to monitor upcoming Nigerian elections
"The most important in the world this year," is how former U.S. President Jimmy Carter characterizes the elections being held in Nigeria on Feb. 27. Both President and Rosalynn Carter will be in Nigeria Feb. 25 to March 1 to head a 50-member monitoring team to help ensure fair and free presidential elections. Gen. Colin Powell and former Niger President Mahamane Ousmane will co-lead the delegation, made up of representatives of both The Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). The center was invited to participate in the election process by Nigeria's Independent National Elections Commission.
Accompanying the Carters to Nigeria will be Charles Costello, director of the Democracy Program at The Carter Center. "Recent local government and statewide elections, though marked by some technical shortcomings, went off well," said Costello. "On Feb. 20 elections will take place for National Assembly seats, with the big prize--the presidency--contested on the 27th. The Nigerian people have suffered under dictatorial, military rule for too long," he continued. "These elections offer real hope for change, but building a solid foundation for permanent, democratic political institutions in Nigeria will be a long, hard struggle requiring more than just one free election."
For all but 10 years since its independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has been under military rule. Last June, however, after the death of Gen. Sani Abacha, Gen. Abulsalami Abubakar came to power, promising to relinquish leadership on May 29 to the winning party of the Feb. 27 election.
Because Nigeria faces significant challenges--an economy that is $30 billion in debt, state-run industries in poor condition, chronic fuel shortages and an educational system in need of restructuring--its return to civilian rule and effective governance is critical to West Africa's long-term development. For that reason, The Carter Center and NDI began working in the country late last year monitoring local and state elections held in December and January, respectively. President Carter spent several days in Nigeria last month surveying the results of those elections and preparing for the Center's February observation mission. While there, he met with representatives of the three parties competing in the presidential election: the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the All People's Party (APP) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP).
Carter said the purpose of that trip was to call "international attention to Nigeria's courageous steps to form a democratic society." He praised Head of State Abubakar for working diligently to advance democratic principles in the Nigerian system of government. "If the next civilian government administers wisely and effectively and is supported by the Nigerian people," said Carter, "then I have full expectations that it will not only serve out its terms but would orchestrate the next elections for its successor."
The first U.S. president to visit Nigeria (in 1979), Carter has periodically returned to the nation during the past 20 years in an effort to promote peace, provide health services and foster democracy. "We are strictly neutral with regard to the outcome of the election but partial to the democratic process in which every citizen will have confidence," he said.
The Carter Center and NDI have conducted programs to support credible elections in dozens of countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Americas and the Middle East. Carter Center field offices in Nigeria are currently exploring ways to assist the country after the February elections. Possibilities include helping initiate plans to improve civil-military relations, human rights, independent media and conflict resolution, particularly in the Niger Delta area.
Ann Carney is assistant director of public information at The Carter