Leading Article: General Obasanjo must make good his promise

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The Independent Culture
WITH THE tragedy of the hostages in Uganda and civil war in Sierra Leone and Angola, it would be easy to view Africa as beyond the pale. But to despair of the continent as a whole would be to underestimate the real progress being made in Africa by Africans.

Nigeria's election campaign constitutes a welcome first step towards constructing a new, non-violent democratic forum within which to resolve old differences. Military leaders have held the reins of power for 28 of the 38 years since the end of British colonial rule, squandering through corruption and despotism the riches of Africa's most populous nation. The election of the retired general Olusegun Obasanjo may not have been the squeaky-clean affair international observers would have wished. But General Obasanjo's opponent Chief Olu Falae's roars of disapproval and claims of widespread vote-rigging should be taken with a pinch of salt. The evidence suggests that where election fraud took place, it was carried out fairly equally for both candidates, by supporters swept up by the excitement of the end of dictatorship. And all the indications are that the end result of this imperfect ballot is roughly in line with the wishes of the Nigerian population. Worryingly, the military made similar accusations of ballot fraud after the 1993 elections, in order to annul the result and hold on to power.

Political parties engaging in clumsy attempts at ballot-rigging should not be allowed to jeopardise such a promising opportunity to call time on 15 years of military rule. Widespread desire for the election to succeed and the sheer margin - 63 per cent of the vote - with which Obasanjo achieved victory should be enough to ensure a smooth transition, without the bloodshed that has marred previous disputed elections. Nigeria's current leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has pledged to make way for Obasanjo in May. A southerner of the Yoruba tribe who remains on good terms with the north-dominated military, Obasanjo is uniquely placed to unite his troubled country and steer it towards realising its oil-rich potential. Persuading the north to release its grip on the nation and bring the south on board has been his first triumph. He must now be encouraged to hold to his pledge to stamp out corruption and prise government from the grip of the military.