This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Cote d'Ivoire - What Lessons for Nigeria?

Imam Imam, with agency reports, looks at the ongoing crisis in Cote d'Ivoire and its implication for Nigeria as it prepares for elections in 2011

In recent years, sitting African presidents have made a mockery of elections held by their people to choose new leaders for their countries. From Egypt to Niger and Guinea, various elections and referendums held have fallen below international standards after the will of the generality of the people have been subverted.

When the military junta in Guinea defied the will of the people and tried to pre-empt democratic elections there, people took to the streets. Reports of those massacred exceeded 150. The international community condemned the junta and the International Criminal Court (ICC) initiated crimes against humanity procedures. The moves forced the collapse of the junta and elections were recently concluded in Guinea.

The current imbroglio in Cote d'Ivoire , one the world's leading cocoa producing nations, has resulted in huge tensions and fear of a break out of another civil war in the West African country.

The present crisis heightened last week after the Constitutional Council overturned earlier poll results and declared President Laurent Gbagbo the winner of a recent run-off vote. This reverses the decision of the electoral commission head who had declared the opposition candidate Alassane Quattara winner of the polls.

The head of the Constitutional Council said results in seven regions in the North had been annulled. These are regions from which Quattara draws most of his support. This election was supposed to reunify the country. There was a civil war in 2002. By disenfranchising the North this action will probably do the opposite.

Having thrown out so many results from the North, Gbagbo went from receiving 46 per cent of the vote when he lost to 51 per cent and a win. Recently the military closed the country's borders and international news services suspended. The UN mission in the Cote d'Ivoire had urged rivals to keep their pledges not to resort to violence. Given that the winner is now the loser that seems unlikely to happen.

Cote d'Ivoire has been split in two for about a decade; one half of the country, with a predominantly Muslim population backs Quattara while the other half, including Christians, back Gbagbo. Ethnic tension and the split have destroyed what was once West Africa's strongest and robust economy. Gbagbo has been a sort of acting president for almost five years since his official term expired, because elections were postponed numerous times.

The recent vote was meant to begin the healing process. Gbagbo narrowly won the first round of voting but didn't gain enough to avoid a runoff. A third candidate backed Quattara, giving him victory in the November 28 runoff, according to most media reports. The Election Commission said Quattara won by 54.1% to 45.9%

The consequences of the ongoing imbroglio is that the country has now been left with two Heads of State, after the two presidential candidates took the oath of office and were sworn-in as President. The move has been viewed as unprecedented in the history of African politics. The Unitedâ-‚Nations and the United States of America, including the government in the United Kingdom have all called on Gbagbo to concede and hand over power to Quattara who was initially declared as winner hours before the results were invalidated by supporters of Gbagbo.

The impasse, experts say, will create further chaos in a country that is no stranger to controversy during election time. President Sarkozy of France has said that Quattara is the winner and that his victory should be accepted. In an unexpected move, the country's Prime Minister, Guillaume Soro, has thrown his support behind Ouattara, who has promised Soro that he would reappoint him as Prime Minister as one of his first acts as president.

Similarly, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) last Tuesday rose from a summit in Abuja with a resolve that Quattara won the elections in Cote d'Ivoire. It ordered that Gbagbo should immediately hand over power to Quattara whom ECOWAS has recognised.

The position of ECOWAS was read at the end of the almost six hours closed door meeting by the Chairman of the regional body, President Goodluck Jonathan, who insisted that they agreed with the position of the United Nations and the international monitors of the election that a clear winner emerged and should be given power.

"The summit called on Mr. Laurent Gbagbo to abide by the results of the second round of Presidential elections as certified by UNOCI, and to yield power without delay, in the best interest of the Ivorian people," the communiqué said.

Jonathan also stated that the summit decided to apply the provisions of Article 45 of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance relating to the imposition of sanctions on Cote d'Ivoire, "including suspension from all ECOWAS decision making bodies until further notice".

Answering questions after presenting the communiqué, Jonathan said the region would no longer tolerate unity government of any kind since it has been noted that it distorts the constitution of countries without ushering in the much-needed peace. He insisted that the principles of democracy have to be observed whereby in an election a clear winner has to emerge and the loser should prepare for another election instead of fighting for a mandate that he was not given by the people.

"The decision is that Gbagbo should yield power immediately to Quattara. There is no more room for unity government. Government of National Unity like you have in Kenya does not really work. The purpose of election is for a clear leader to emerge. Such governments violate the constitution of the country for peace and in the end it does not achieve peace," he said.

It appears though that Gbagbo has the support of the country's military forces and the new forces rebel group of which the current PM is the leader, have thrown their weight behind Quattara who seems to have attracted foreign governments support, who are in fact insisting that he is the rightful person to occupy the presidency. The situation is still tense as an unpredictable atmosphereâ-‚looms over a country that still has the scars of brutal rebel conflicts that have left several dead and wounded.

Last week, unidentified gunmen went on the rampage and attacked offices belonging to the opposition. Despite a curfewâ-‚ that was in place in the capital Abidjan, the gunmen were able to gain access to the building housing the opposition offices as automatic weapons were used and four people were murdered in cold-blood. In the ensuing fracas, fourteen people were injured as well. The incident took place in Yopougon, a small district of Abidjan.

Analysts say Nigeria and other African countries can learn from the current face-off Cote d'Ivoire.

"The biggest lesson from the crisis is that the days where incumbent Presidents toy with the destiny of the people is over. The international communities, notably France, has now changed its policy towards African dictators and this is good because it will deepen democracy as well as give the people a say in the way their leaders run their affairs," said Emmanuel Njoku, an Abuja-based commentator.

According to him, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should also learn from what happened in Cote d'Ivoire. "INEC has a lot to learn from the situation. Despite unfavourable working environment, the electoral body exhibited uncommon commitment to give Ivoreans an election they deserved. I urge INEC to study the situation and also apply it to our country as we seek to have free, fair and credible polls in 2011," he added.

For Kingsley Moyose, a media analyst, Nigerian journalists should avoid the kind of divisive reportage seen in Cote d'Ivoire before, during and after the presidential poll. He said; "There are valuable lessons in Nigeria for those who have chosen to hire out their pens to fan the embers of sectionalism in the election of the next president."

He said: "Since the death of former President Felix Boigny, politics in Cote d'Ivoire has swiftly descended into an ethnic and sectional abyss, helped in no small measure by Gbagbo's desire to hold on to power by all means foul and aided and abetted by journalists who have thrown all decorum and ethics of the journalism profession overboard.

"Journalists from the Northern part of Cote' d'Ivoire have risen to the challenge of their Southern counterparts and in the process both sides have resorted to appealing to the base and animal instincts of the Ivorian people to ensure outcomes favorable to their principals. It is unfortunate because from Rwanda, to Kenya, Congo, Guinea Bissau, Burundi, Bosnia and Kosovo, members of the print and electronic media have been in the forefront of those backing politicians who advance positions that in themselves carry the very seeds of destruction that result in volcanic eruptions spewing human blood in large quantities."

He added that with the situation getting tensed in Cote d'Ivoire, journalists in Nigeria should be mindful of the likely consequences that will follow if they fail to preach the gospel of unity during the forthcoming polls. He said with over 400 ethnic groups and a large numbers of Muslims and Christians, playing up ethnic issues from the North and South may push Nigeria towards dangerous situations.

"I therefore implore members of the electronic and print media not to join in the folly of those who would rather that the country goes up in flames if they cannot have their way, and for them to learn from Kenya, Guinea Bissau and Cote d'Ivoire and to use their pens and cameras to steer Nigeria away from sectional abyss," he added.

Many are of the opinion that the real victims of the present political intransigence are the people who are faced with an unpredictable future as the country edges to all out chaos. They opine that Gbagbo's dangerous move must be quickly reversed so as not to send the wrong signal to other African countries that will soon hold elections, including Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and DR Congo.

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