Obasanjo's party sweeps elections

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THE PARTY of Olusegun Obasanjo, the retired general who is favourite to become Nigeria's first civilian leader for 15 years, swept parliamentary elections at the weekend, it was confirmed yesterday. But his campaign team expressed fears over his standing ahead of the presidential poll this Saturday.

As final results confirmed that Mr Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party (PDP) last Saturday won a landslide victory in all but the south-west and sparsely populated north-west and north-east, campaigners expressed concern that his presidential challenger, Olu Falae, might make headway this week.

The PDP is widely seen as "the party of the generals" and is reportedly funded by top brass from former military regimes. Mr Falae's Alliance for Democracy/All People's Party, which is rooted in the south-west, has fewer resources.

Commonwealth election monitors said the weekend elections to the House of Representatives and Senate had passed without incident. But European Union observers reported "serious irregularities", particularly in the tense oil-producing areas of the south, including Bayelsa and Port Harcourt, where stuffed ballot boxes had been found.

However, the overall impression of Saturday's voting was of a low turn- out, especially by women. Nigeria, ruled by military dictators for all but 10 of its 39 years of independence from Britain, knows only centralisation and local politics.

In such a climate, voters may have found it hard to relate to parliamentary candidates. Also, after local and gubernatorial elections in December and January, many feel weary of the process. Under the transition programme drawn up by General Abdulsalam Abubakar, next Saturday's presidential elections will lead to a hand over to civilian rule on 29 May.

Isyaku Ibrahim, a PDP official in the capital, Abuja, yesterday, for an Obasanjo fund raiser, said the PDP remained confident of victory but was concerned at how eastern Nigeria would vote on Saturday. "If anything, we are slipping at the moment in the east.

"It is now becoming an election which is perceived as the military-man versus the non-military man," he said.

All the polls to date have taken place against a background of boundaries drawn by the military which favour the Muslim and Hausa-Fulani-dominated north. Statistically, the north is more populous than the south but its semi-desert nature and travellers' impressions do not bear that out. The presidential elections, in which boundaries are less of a factor, could therefore produce a result which does not reflect trends to date.

General Obasanjo, who yesterday staged a rally in Kaduna - a sedate city which is a favoured seat of retired generals - is not expected to win more than 20 per cent of votes in the populous south-west. Kaduna, however, should be a walkover. He will almost certainly dominate the centre and centre-north of the country which is Hausa-Fulani and under strong influence of traditional leaders close to the military.

Neither candidate is popular in the east. Pini Jason, a political commentator from the east, said: "We have a reputation for voting for whoever looks like being the winner."