Letter to the Editor by Jonathan Fanton: Nigeria on a Path to Genuine Democracy
May 24, 2007 | Commentary | Human Rights

MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton discusses the progress of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasango after their recent election.

Your May 5 editorial "Fraud in Nigeria" rightly expresses disappointment with the recent presidential election in Nigeria. You remind us that Nigeria's path to democracy and a fair distribution of its oil resources is challenging.

The MacArthur Foundation has worked in Nigeria for 21 years, has an office in Abuja and supports a number of universities and 50 non-profit organizations in the fields of human rights and reproductive health. I visit Nigeria once a year, most recently just before the election.

I think your editorial is too hard on Nigeria and on President Olusegun Obasanjo. To be sure, the election was flawed. But it happened with almost 60 percent of the population voting. The constitution was not amended to allow a third term. The country did not fall into chaos requiring a military intervention. And it seems likely the new government will come into office on time with its legitimacy determined in the courts of law.

You say, "Obasanjo has been a failure as president."

But consider these accomplishments. He has:

- Led Nigeria through the longest period of civilian rule in its post-independence history.

- Fostered national unity in an ethnically and religiously divided nation.

- Dismantled a pervasive state security apparatus.

- Removed repressive statutes from federal laws.

- Erased the country's external debt and built a substantial reserve.

- Run a vigorous, if selective, campaign against corruption.

- Instituted a raft of significant and successful economic reforms.

- Asserted Nigerian leadership within Africa and on the world stage.

When I spoke to Obasanjo a month ago, he was very much aware of the unfinished agenda, and disappointed in himself that he had not accomplished even more. He remains committed to helping his country reduce corruption, improve education and health, and distribute the fruits of economic growth fairly.

For all the problems -- continuing poverty, corruption and unrest in the oil regions among them -- I have observed progress over the past eight years. I see a vibrant civil society, a free press and a younger generation of talented Nigerians in government who share the vision of a better future.

History will credit Obasanjo with putting Nigeria on the path to a stable and genuine democracy.

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