Nigeria lifts ban on ex-politicians



Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 20 December 1991

Nigeria’s military government lifted a four-year ban yesterday on former politicians taking part in the transition to civilian rule scheduled for completion next year.

The unexpected decision, which was not part of the transition programme announced in September 1989 by President Ibrahim Babangida, came after peaceful state governorship elections at the weekend, which convinced the Armed Forces Ruling Council government that disqualified politicians were no longer a threat to the political process and should therefore be allowed to join parties.

The decision will affect several thousand former MPs and let members of the military government seek elective office. But some ex-MPs, banned for life from politics after being convicted of violating a code of conduct for public officials, will remain banned.

Many former MPs from military and civilian governments, as well as people involved in Gen Babangida’s administration, were disqualified in 1987 from taking part in the current political round.

Observers believe the lifting of the ban was timed to deprive members of deposed governments of positions they might covet.

Last Saturday’s elections were contested by two parties set up by the AFRC government and the ex-politicians were banned. Many of them would have wanted to fight for a governorship.

The only remaining posts to be contested in the transition programme are the presidency and vice-presidency, positions whose heavy responsibilities will deter many of those whose bans have been lifted.

The two government-created parties, the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention, were intended to attract a new breed of politician untainted by old electoral habits, like vote rigging, which helped to bring down the two previous republics in military coups in 1966 and 1983.

There were allegations of malpractice after Saturday’s polls but not on the scale reported during recent primaries. Thirteen ex-politicians were detained on December 2 on charges of playing a big part in the marred primaries.

The final result of the poll gave the right-wing NRC 16 governorships to the SDP’s 14. The NRC has called for fresh polls in four states in which it lost following allegations of vote rigging, The overall vote reversed party performances in last year’s local council elections, a factor which cast serious doubt on the fairness of those elections.

The ban on ex-politicians has been strongly criticised since its imposition in 1987. Human rights groups claimed it would leave the NRC and SDP without solid political foundations because of the absence of some of Nigeria’s richest and most influential citizens, who regard politics as a natural extension of their business interests.


© Guardian Newspapers. All rights reserved