Freedom House Applauds Nigerian Senate Decision to Throw Out Re-Election Bill
Freedom House applauds the Nigerian Senate's decision to reject a bill that would have amended the Constitution to allow President Olusegun Obasanjo to seek a third four-year term.
For the past year, President Obasanjo's allies in government, the ruling People's Democratic Party, and the private sector have lobbied to change the Nigerian constitution to allow for an third presidential term. During this time they have also been accused of vote buying and threatening members of Parliament who are opposed to the initiative.
"Yesterday, Nigerian parliamentarians demonstrated leadership, unity, and a commitment to democracy by unanimously voting against the re-election measure," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "This vote sets a valuable precedent, not only for Nigeria, but also for other sub-Saharan African countries where - despite rhetorical commitments to democracy - some sitting Presidents have continued long-standing practices of changing constitutions and laws to allow them to stay in power."
Both Uganda and Chad have recently modified their laws to extend the terms of office of Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Idriss Deby, respectively. Freedom House believes that such actions undermine the rule of law and democratic accountability, and urges the African Union to require all of its member states to abide by the term limits - for both heads of state and legislators - that have been agreed to in their constitutions. The United States and European governments should continue - and strengthen - their efforts to encourage African governments to respect the constitutional limits on their power.
"Nigeria has taken a number of important forward steps towards a democratic system. A peaceful transfer of power after the May 2007 elections is a critical next step," said Ms. Windsor. "To demonstrate his commitment to continued democratic progress in Nigeria, President Obasanjo should respect the Senate's decision to prevent him from contesting a third presidential term and the Nigerian Constitution on which it was based," she added.
According to Freedom House's annual survey, Freedom in the World, Nigeria has made some progress in guaranteeing political rights and civil liberties, but faces continued problems. Over the last two years, Freedom House has noted with concern government crackdowns against journalists, labor unions, and other Nigerians considered a "threat to national unity," while recognizing the continuing efforts of President Obasanjo's government to reform the economy and fight corruption.
In its recently released Press Freedom Survey, Freedom House continues to rate Nigeria as "Partly Free," with a lively and generally outspoken media. However, the 2006 report also noted that self-censorship still is an issue, reinforced by the government's continued use of intimidation tactics, arbitrary arrests, and violence against the media.
Freedom House is an independent private organization supporting the expansion of freedom throughout the world. Freedom House has been monitoring democratic performance in Nigeria since 1972.
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