Posted by By WILL CONNORS on
The last legal challenge to the legitimacy of President Umaru Yar’Adua was quashed by the Supreme Court last week, but he and Nigeria are far from out of the woods.
LAGOS, Nigeria — The last legal challenge to the legitimacy of President Umaru Yar’Adua was quashed by the Supreme Court last week, but he and Nigeria are far from out of the woods.
Although Mr. Yar’Adua, a former governor from a remote northern state, finally has a firm mandate to take charge of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and oil-rich country, he has accomplished so little in the 19 months since his flawed election that few believe that he can.
In its 4-to-3 decision on Friday in his favor, the Supreme Court did little to inspire confidence in the president or in the circumstances that brought him to power. While dismissing the suit brought by opposition leaders to overturn the April 2007 elections, the court conceded that widespread voting irregularities had occurred and severely chastised the national electoral commission for incompetence.
Even officials of the governing party said the president experienced a close call. Local and international observers had declared the elections fraudulent, marred by theft, violence and political intimidation. The chief lawyer for the electoral commission called the decision a “narrow escape for the president.”
Though Nigeria has a long history of corruption and misrule, opposition leaders did have some reason, however small, to hope for something different this time. In the past year, the electoral victories of several state governors were overturned in a series of local court rulings, inspiring moderate confidence in the growing independence of the judiciary.
However, most of the mandated revotes in those cases still resulted in victories for the governing Peoples Democratic Party. And in the latest case, few expected the Supreme Court to overturn the election of a president who had already been in office for more than a year.
“Nobody would want to rock the boat at this point, as badly as things are going,” said Namdi Obasi, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. Asked if the court ruling meant that Mr. Yar’Adua would now earnestly tackle Nigeria’s many problems, Mr. Obasi said: “Absolutely not. There is not going to be any dramatic difference now in the way the country is governed. I think people are just counting the days until the next elections in 2011.”
Those days will probably go by slowly for the president. Plucked from obscurity by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Yar’Adua, a former teacher, is the subject of widespread concerns about his health and doubts about his ability to govern.
Examples of his inefficiency abound. His efforts to shuffle important cabinet positions stalled for nearly a year. He has still not appointed a replacement for the health minister, ousted in a corruption scandal nine months ago.
His pledge to end corruption was undermined by the demotion and forced exile of the country’s popular antigraft czar. After making the first concrete efforts to prosecute corrupt leaders, several of whom landed in jail, the official was driven into hiding after two attempts on his life.
There are also serious concerns about Mr. Yar’Adua’s health, so much so that political insiders have already begun to speculate about a possible replacement. In the middle of the 2007 election campaign, Mr. Yar’Adua flew to Germany for undisclosed medical treatment, and he has traveled abroad for health reasons at least twice since his election.
In August, what was supposed to be a short religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia turned into a weeklong absence, during which rumors swirled. Officials played down the trip but acknowledged that he had undergone another minor treatment, again for an undisclosed ailment.
That the president of Africa’s second-wealthiest country and its biggest oil exporter had to travel abroad for minor treatment speaks volumes about the state of services in Nigeria. The average Nigerian lives on less than $2 a day and has no reliable access to electricity, clean water or adequate health care.
At a cybercafe in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, residents shrugged at news of the court decision. None were surprised, and none held out much hope for the rest of the Yar’Adua presidency.
“What can we do?” said Gbenga Biodun, 23, an accountant. “We just have to fold our arms and accept what our leaders do.” Patrons near him nodded in resignation.
“I knew there wouldn’t be any surprises,” said Akinbode Oluwasemi, 40, a social worker and environmental activist. “It’s a culmination of the fraud we saw at the election. If they suspended the election you would have seen jubilation in the streets. But as you can see no one was jubilating.”
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