Delta State produces approximately 40 percent of Nigeria’s oil. According to Nigeria’s 1999 constitution, 13 percent of federal revenue from natural resources is returned to the state from which it came, on a “derivation” basis.50 Delta State is thus the richest state in the Nigerian federation, and control of its government structures a major prize both for the individuals and the political parties concerned. Nigeria regularly appears at or near the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, and control of government structures in some states can represent virtually unaudited control of funds.
It is thus hardly surprising that among the main causes of the 2003 fighting in Delta State (as in 1999) have been disputes over the manner in which state and federal elections would be run, and the lack of confidence in the institutions responsible for resolving those disputes and ensuring the vote would be free and fair. INEC and the DSIEC in particular failed to carry out voter registration in a fashion that persuaded anybody that the number of voters registered conformed to any reality of population on the ground; they also failed to put in place systems to demarcate ward boundaries according to a process that could be seen to be fair. The federal and state governments, meantime, have taken no effective action since 1999 to resolve the longer-term dispute over the configuration of local governments in the Warri area. The failure of successive Nigerian federal governments to conduct an accurate census has exacerbated the registration and demarcation problems at state level.
Election issues triggered both the February and March violence. The clash in early February between the Urhobo and Itsekiri in Warri town during the PDP senatorial primaries was over the issue of electoral wards. FNDIC’s March 3 statement demanded among other things that “INEC should disregard the fraudulent voters’ registration exercise earlier conducted in Warri South West Council until INEC/DSIEC are able to conduct a fair and just delineation of electoral wards.”51 In a situation where there was absolutely no confidence that the polls themselves would be free and fair, those who felt frustrated by the existing systems for dividing up power (and thus wealth) then turned to violence. Of course, those leading the violence do not necessarily have any commitment to a more equitable distribution of resources, beyond securing their own share; but they are able to draw on an inexhaustible well of alienation from the current regime and its corruption, and frustration at the impossibility of changing government through peaceful means, in recruiting those who will fight for them.
Both the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) in Delta State called for the April 12 National Assembly elections to be rescheduled in Delta State, citing fraud and the absence of attempts even to hold the poll in some areas; they repeated the call following the gubernatorial elections. AD gubernatorial candidate Great Ogburu claimed that many of his supporters were arrested in the early hours of the April 19 gubernatorial and presidential poll, and called for the cancellation of the results; candidate for the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) Prince Ned Nwoko alleged intimidation of his supporters by PDP “thugs” acting in collusion with the police. On April 20, the day after the poll, armed youths stormed a private radio station in Effurun, just outside Warri, and forced it to announce Ogburu’s victory; later in the day, the state-owned radio station announced the victory of the incumbent, Governor Ibori. Just days before the vote, the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial of a case in which two members of the Delta State PDP had asked the court for Ibori to be disqualified as a candidate on grounds that he had been convicted of criminal negligence and breach of trust in 1995.52 On April 28, Ijaw leaders demanded the suspension of state assembly and local government elections in Warri North, South and South West LGAs until a “permanent solution is found to the Warri crisis.” They stated that: “A situation where the minority Itsekiri will be chairmen, vice chairmen and councillors as well as House of Assembly members in all the three Warri LGAs will not be accepted and allowed by the majority of Ijaws of Warri anymore.”53 The Urhobo Progressive Union also called for the May 4 state assembly elections to be called off, stating that “the Urhobo people cannot and will not participate in a sham election which will further perpetuate the injustice of the past years.”54 The uncertainty until the last minute as to whether elections would actually be held and on what basis increased the likelihood of violence right up to the three polling days in April and May.
All independent national and international observers reporting on the 2003 elections in Delta State shared a consensus that they were wholly illegitimate. The European Union (E.U.), for example, the largest international delegation to the Nigerian elections, noted serious irregularities in Delta State in the presidential, gubernatorial and national and state assembly elections, including widespread intimidation, ballot box snatching, multiple voting, polling stations that did not open at all, forgery of results, hundreds of votes added in favor of the ruling party at collation centers, ruling party control of the election process, and other abuses—such that “the minimum standards for democratic elections were not met.” Delta State was one of several in which the E.U. stated that the elections “lack credibility and appropriate measures must be taken to provide voters with a truly democratic electoral process.”55 In Warri South and Warri South West, the local government areas worst affected by the pre-election violence, the Independent National Electoral Commission website simply lists the results for the gubernatorial race as “not available.”56 Despite all of this, Delta State Deputy Governor B.S.C. Elue denied to Human Rights Watch that there had been any irregularities at all in the conduct of the elections.57
Unless the government of Delta State is perceived to have electoral legitimacy there is little chance that it will be able to resolve the crisis of violence that surrounded its creation. The level of fraud and violence in Delta State was beyond the type that can be solved by election tribunals appointed to adjudicate disputed results: the elections should be reheld, starting from the voter registration process, taking into account the recommendations made by the various observer groups. The lack of confidence in the electoral process, meanwhile, increases the likelihood of violence being used as the means of allocating government positions.
50 Section 162(2) of the 1999 constitution provides that: “The President, upon the receipt of the advice from the National Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, shall table before the National Assembly proposals for Revenue Allocation from the Federation Account, and, in determining the formula, the National Assembly shall take into account allocation principles especially those of Population, Equality of States, Internal Revenue Generation, Land Mass, Terrain, as well as Population Density: provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less than 13 percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources.”
51 Sola Adebayo, “Warri War—The battle in the creeks, the agonies of victims,” Vanguard, March 30, 2003.
52 Sola Adebayo, “Armed youths force radio station to announce Ogburu winner in Delta,” Vanguard, April 21, 2003; “Saturday polls—Gubernatorial winners,” Vanguard April 21, 2003; “As Appeal Court Upturns Abuja Ruling….” This Day, April 17, 2003.
53 Sola Adebayo, “Ijaw want assembly, LG polls suspended in Warri LGs,” Vanguard, April 29, 2003.
54 Oma Djebah, Eddy Odivwri, “Govt moves to stop violence in delta,” This Day, May 3, 2003.
55 European Union Election Observation Mission statements and report available at www.eueomnigeria.org.
56 Election results available at www.inecnigeria.org.
57 Human Rights Watch interview, September 10, 2003.