Eye witness

March 5, 1999

Predictable questions over the conduct of Nigeria's first democratic presidential elections since 1993 cloud the victory of retired general Olusegun Obasanjo, who uniquely relinquished power to an elected president in 1979.

General Obasanjo's well-oiled election machine is seen as having broken free of the ethnic divisions that have dogged successive governments.

But historian Sola Akinrinade of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, warned: "Obasanjo's election is the outcome of manipulation by those who have been exercising power for the past 33 years or so, to retain the levers of power indirectly.

"The electorate was forced to choose between candidates foisted on them by cabals and caucuses. It is openly acknowledged that Obasanjo cannot win a local election. He has no political base and is deeply unpopular among his own people for being a willing instrument in the hands of the northern caucus and for openly supporting a scheme for denying acting president Moshood Abiola the presidency. He has also benefited from a disorganised opposition."

Richard Synge, of Cambridge University's African Studies Centre, said:

"Obasanjo has benefited mostly from the effectiveness of the People's Democratic Movement, which has a northern power base, but also has support in the east. There is also financial backing from other former military rulers."

Both specialists think that the multinational oil companies have nothing to fear from the new president. Dr Akinrinade said: "Obasanjo is likely to promote a greater involvement in the management of the oil industry by the more reputable companies and could be expected to pursue a more disciplined approach to the management of the economy."

But Mr Synge added: "The real threat to the companies comes from the gathering of support around the indigenous peoples' protest movements. Ultimately the companies have the power to ride with the wind of change and thereby reap benefits, but they have shown no sign of such imaginative thinking. Therefore they risk an escalation of the protests."

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