Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The 43rd good thing about Lagos: Living here before an election makes me really appreciate the American political system

Some of you reading this in the U.S. may be already tired of the potential presidential candidates posturing to get a lead in the polls. I don't know a lot about the political machine here, but what I do know leads me to think it's a pretty scary thing. I was asking some questions of our driver, Jamiu, the other day and asked him if he was interested in politics and he said, "No, not really. To be in politics here it's all about lying and stealing and killing." He said anyone that wants to get involved in politics to really help the people ends up getting killed off. One of the expatriate women said a year or so ago before a governor's election, 6 of the 7 candidates were murdered! There are elections here in April -- governor's elections on the 14th and the presidential election on the 21st. If the presidential election goes as planned and power is actually transferred to another leader, it will be the first time a peaceful transition of presidential power has occurred in Nigeria since it has been an independent country. Gearing up for the elections, there are occasional disturbances on the streets with political rallies and other events. I heard the other day of some women going to the market who were stopped in traffic because someone was handing out caps advertising a candidate at a roundabout. The distribution drew a crowd which ended up in a riot as people were fighting for the caps. As soon as possible, the women got their car turned around and left the area. I don't know much about the candidates running for president, but the current vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, really worries me. He has been disqualified from the election because he was convicted of crimes by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. They recently released their findings which ended up disqualifying many of the candidates for president and governorships due to their illegal dealings. I know enough about the system here to guess that all the politicians currently in power are involved in corrupt actions, and the findings probably have more to do with political maneuvering than anything. Atiku had recently changed political parties from the one that brought him into power -- I'm guessing this has something to do with why he was disqualified, but I really don't know for sure. But being disqualified from the election hasn't stopped him from proclaiming himself the rightful successor to Obasanjo, the current president. He says the ruling disqualifying him from the election means nothing and goes forward like he expects to be the next president. (I'm getting most of my information from news briefs that are compiled for the company, as well as from discussions with people, so I hope I'm accurate here, but I make no guarantees!) In the meantime, the expatriates here (and likely the locals as well) are a little on edge because we don't really know what's going to happen around the elections. The companies here are warning people to be prepared to be in their houses for at least each weekend, but also to have a supply of goods and water to last at least two weeks in case the streets become unsafe (meaning, more unsafe than usual). In an ExxonMobil housing complex, the residents are already planning their election lockdown parties. And the companies are all warning that if things get looking bad, they may fly people out for the duration -- but they aren't really expecting to evacuate anyone. Hopefully there will be no huge revolts or disturbances -- at least I hope Brent won't have any problems. I'm feeling pretty glad that my grandson is due the beginning of April and I'll be in the States helping my daughter with him! Good timing!

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