Nigerian election campaign; DEMOCRACY WITH A TRIBAL BEAT
From the hilltop, hundreds of rusted tin roofs stretch across the parched landscape. A cloud of dust rising in the shimmering noon heat signals that a caravan is winding its way down the opposite hillside. It draws close and the caravan's assorted vehicles sway rhythmically through Ede's deeply potholed, dusty streets - Peugeots, Toyotas, and Datsuns crammed with smiling black faces shouting, ''One Nigeria, One Nation!'' as drums beat and villagers sing.Skip to next paragraph
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Shouting, thrusting their fingers skyward like college football fans, the caravan riders try to win support from the locals for a stronger federal government and for President Shehu Shagari's National Party of Nigeria (NPN). From the crackling loudspeaker atop the lead van comes the message, ''Our national President has instructed you not to pay the local flat-rate tax imposed by the Oyo State government.''
Several smiles and shouts of ''One Nigeria!'' from villagers show there is scattered support.
NPN's choice of Ede for this political rally represents a calculated gamble. The numerous hostile, stony faces glaring from the shop stalls and roadsides indicate this is a stronghold of the opposition - the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
At issue is the degree of power that President Shagari and the NPN, which controls the federal government in Lagos, can exercise over the 19 state governments that compose the Federal Republic of Nigeria. NPN's rally in Ede shows the obstacles Shagari's drive for a strong federal government faces in a country whose political history has revolved around deep divisions between Nigeria's three major tribes - the Yoruba in the west, Hausa-Fulani in the north , and Ibo in the east.
Nigerians tend to identify with tribe and locality rather than the nation, and this was a major cause of the Nigerian civil war (1966-70) that led to military rule until 1979.
Since Shagari defeated Chief Obafe Awolowo in general elections in 1979, the country has maintained a vibrant multiparty political system modeled along US lines. In the Nigerian National Assembly, each of the 19 states and five political parties is represented in the Senate and House of Representatives. President Shagari and the NPN control seven state governments and hold a majority of seats in both houses. The UPN, under Awolowo, controls five states, among them Oyo State, which includes Ede.
Seeking to increase nationalistic identification among the major tribes, Shagari has pledged to use the country's oil wealth to increase food production and provide low-cost housing in each of the 19 states. At the same time, Awolowo and the more tribalistic UPN have concentrated on their promise to provide free medical care and education in the five states where they control the governments.
As in America, both sides make promises, then must decide after the election which ones can be kept. In Nigeria's case, promises of increased development rest on the presumption that the necessary funds will be generated by oil exports. The stark economic reality of the world oil glut has turned grandiose dreams into broken promises. Nigeria's crude oil exports have fallen from an expected 2 million barrels per day to about 600,000, and the resulting shortfall of funds has provided the ammunition for a lively political campaign. In gearing up their party machinery for the 1983 general election, the NPN has chosen Oyo State as a major focal point. A sound victory over the UPN there would signal a giant step in the party's efforts to ensure that Nigeria's development policies will be determined by a strong federal government rather than at the state level. As one NPN organizer explained, ''We are trying to kill the tribal aspects of our political life.''
The caravan halts, spilling its human cargo before the two-story adobe palace of the oba (paramount chief) of Ede. Though prohibited from active political campaigning by Nigeria's constitution, the oba sits at the head of the council that rules on matters of local importance. Without his blessing, the NPN will make little headway in Ede.