Nigeria: Arrest of prominent politician; Opposition crackdown or justice?

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Following the arrest of a leader of a rising opposition party in Nigeria by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the country’s democracy has been questioned. Some politicians have accused the authorities of trying to scamper their plans to unite against the ruling party.
Attahiru Bafarawa, who ran for president in 2007, was arrested whilst in a meeting trying to form an opposition party for an election due in 2011.

The opposition also comprises former presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who led Nigeria between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985 after a coup, and ex-Vice-President Atiku Abubakar (from 1999 to 2007), who have both accused the EFCC of being a tool for the government to silence its critics.

In its defense, the EFCC has argued that its reputation of locking up several convicted persons and recuperating billions of dollars from even the high and mighty thwarts any claims of partiality. The commission accuses Mr. Bafarawa of taking part in a $40million fraud while he was governor of Sokoto, a northern Nigerian State.

According to the Vanguard of July, 2008, while Mr. Bafarawa was governor, five separate petitions alleging abuse of office, money laundering and official corruption were written against him by individuals and corporate institutions. In October 2006 a task force headed by Nuhu Ribadu of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) would have issued a report listing assets owned by 15 state governors that had not been declared on an official register as required by law.

Gov. Bafarawa was accused of failing to declare a N200 million property in London which he acquired when he took office. He stepped down as Sokoto governor in 2007.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has dominated Nigeria since its return to democracy in 1999, and has been criticized by many observers. Many say that elections have been marred by rigging, voter intimidation and the use of security forces.

In March, opposition parties in Nigeria agreed to unite to compete against the governing PDP in elections due in 2011. According to reports, the 19 parties would form what they describe as one mega-party to challenge the incumbent President Umaru Yar’Adua. They have accused the PDP of running the country into the ground and acting as if Nigeria were a one-party state. The opposition parties had said they were uniting in order to save the country.

Meanwhile, analysts have questioned the independence of the electoral commission, which refused to register a coalition of opposition parties during the 1980s (when the country was under the leadership of President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria’s National Party) and is being criticized for partisanship and failure to conduct free and fair elections.

Cracking down on opposition parties or politicians has appeared to be a common practice in African politics. From Sudan, to Zimbabwe, Guinea to Gabon, reports have revealed the power struggle and procurement, through outright intimidation, suppression and arrests. Weak state capacities, tot democracies, ethnic and religious fractionalization, and other grievances and opportunistic factors have given room for this trend.

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