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Between the devil and the deep blue sea: the displacement of ethnicity by corruption in Nigeria's electoral politics.


Attempts to form nationally integrative political parties at the dawn of electoral politics in Nigeria failed. Instead, a pattern of ethnic politics emerged, exemplified by ethno-regional political parties, ethnic mobilization and ethnic voting such that by the last pre-independence election in 1959, each of the three regions had become the exclusive domains of specific ethnoregional parties. This pattern continued well into the post-colonial era and has been blamed for the country's problems of political leadership, national integration, economic and political development. Correspondingly, a preponderance of scholars have come to see ethnicity as the major determinant of electoral outcomes in Nigeria as, indeed, in much of Africa. Thus, ethnicity is readily seen as the "red devil" (1) of African politics.

However, in recent elections, the dominant People's Democratic Party (PDP) "captured" states that were traditionally the exclusive domains of ethnoregional parties. Also, in at least one state with a long history of ethnic rivalry between a numerically superior and a demographically insignificant group, a candidate from the latter achieved unprecedented electoral success in governorship elections. (2) Yet, graphic and dramatic as these may be, they are only a culmination of a hardly acknowledged trend in the displacement of ethnicity that dates back to the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The demolition of the ethno-regional pattern which acquired a new ferocity in the last ten years, reaching its peak in the 2007 general elections, needs to be empirically demonstrated. This constitutes the first task of this paper. In this connection, it undertakes a historical analysis of electoral politics and outcomes in Nigeria, since the introduction of the elective principle in 1923, to show the old and emerging patterns. The second purpose of this paper is to account for this new trend. In other words, why is ethnicity becoming less relevant and what provides the mechanism for transcending ethnic politics?

Thirdly, the paper attempts to examine the implications of the emerging pattern. It relies on primary material, participant observation and existing scholarly studies.


The introduction of the elective principle in 1923, following provisions of the Richard's Constitution of 1922, marked the beginning of party formation and competitive partisan politics in Nigeria. Since then, the country has been plagued with the problem of conducting elections that are free, fair and peaceful. Disputed election results were implicated in the collapse of the First and Second post-independence Republics in 1966 and 1983, respectively. (3) The Third was aborted when the results of what has been widely adjudged as the freest election in the country was annulled by the military under General Ibrahim Babangida. The Fourth Republic, which has lasted 10 years, the longest in the nation's nearly five decades of independence, has witnessed general elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007 that have been characterized by a progressive worsening of credibility from one election to another.

Competing explanations exist for the problem of Nigeria as well as other African countries with regards to electoral politics. Some scholars have tried to provide a materialist interpretation to the problem, explaining it in terms of intra-ruling class struggles for the use of the state for accumulation. Ethnicity is either seen as a secondary contradiction or ascribed a positive role. (4) The more popular explanations, however, are those which attribute the problem to ethnicity. Even then, several tendencies exist. One of these is what is referred to as "conventional accounts" (5) of the party-ethnicity relationship which view ethnic interests as "intrinsically antagonistic." This is why, for them, "elections become zero-sum game, engendering a spiral of ethnic outbidding that seriously threatens democratic stability." (6)

Another tendency is associated with the "constructivists" who criticize conventional accounts for having underlying flawed primordialist assumptions on the plural ethnic composition of the country and resultant emergence of ethnic-based political parties, accompanying ethnic mobilization and ethnic voting pattern. They reject any intrinsic antipathy between ethnicity and democracy, maintaining instead that the relationship is a strategic and contingent one. Yet, none else seem to have underscored the relevance of ethnicity in African politics the way the constructivists have done in the following representative statement:
   The inherent uncertainty of electoral competition and
   institutional legacies of colonial and post-colonial
   governance combine to underscore the salience of ethnicity
   as a source of strategic coordination over political outcomes
   and the heavy reliance of organizationally and
   programmatically weak political parties on it as a cost-effective
   instrument of electoral mobilization. (7)

The Nigerian situation corresponds largely with this constructivist conception. Through the elective principle, the colonial government conceded that three unofficial representatives from Lagos and one from Calabar should be elected by residents of those towns with minimum incomes of one hundred pounds per annum. This led to the formation of the first political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) by Herbert Macaulay and his associates on June 24, 1923. (8) The Lagos Youth Movement (NYM) followed in 1934 and was renamed Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) in 1936. Others were the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (later renamed, National Council of Nigerian Citizens) (NCNC); Northern People's Congress (NPC); and the Action Group (AG) in 1944, 1946 and 1951, respectively. The Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) was to be formed by Mallam Aminu Kano as a splinter group from the NPC.

Significantly, none of the first two parties, the NNDP (even though its activities were confined to Lagos) and NYM, could be described as ethnic parties. The same goes for the NCNC in its early stage. It was the division of the provinces in Nigeria into three regions- Northern, Eastern and Western- in 1939 and the subsequent introduction of regionalism following constitutional developments in the 1940s and 1950s that encouraged the formation of the NPC and AG as essentially ethno-regional election machines and transformed the NCNC into one. (9) Thus, the NPC became synonymous with the Hausa-Fulani domination and control of Northern region and the AG and NCNC, with Yoruba and Ibo, were in control of Western and Eastern regions, respectively.

One effect of this was that except for elections into regional and federal legislatures, where they had to compete among themselves in their respective constituencies, members from the numerous minority ethnic groups within each region could not aspire to any elective executive positions no matter how qualified they were such positions. For example, in the Western region, no non-Yoruba occupied the position of Governor or Premier until 1963 when the minorities were constituted into the Midwest region. It was only then that some of the erstwhile minorities, the Bini, Urhobo and Ibos west of the Niger, now turned majorities in the new region, and shared the regional capital, Governor and Premier among themselves respectively to celebrate their freedom from Yoruba domination. Ironically, they established their dominance, albeit, to a lesser extent over the minorities of the minorities--the Itsekiri, Isoko, Ijaw and Ukwuani in present day Delta State and the Akoko-Edo, Etsako, Ishan and Ora of what is now Edo State. The Northern and Eastern minorities had similar experiences. (10)

Another effect of the ethno-regional character of electoral politics was that when parties "trespassed" into the political space of other parties, by providing an alternative platform for minorities and other opposition elements in other regions, considerable tension was created. Finally, this pattern of politics made it impossible for clear winners to emerge in elections involving candidates from the major ethno-regional groups such as parliamentary or presidential elections, leading to considerable violence and the formation of governments being made possible only as a result of unstable alliances and accords as happened in 1959, 1964/65 and 1979. The collapse of the First and Second Republics have been linked in part to controversies, conflicts and crises arising from such regional and federal elections and resultant unworkable post- election arrangements. (11)


Within the 13 years of military rule which followed the demise of the First Republic on January 15, 1966, a number of measures were put in place. Some of these were specifically targeted at eliminating, or at least ameliorating. the negative effects of the debilitating ethno-regional pattern of electoral politics; others, though intended for other purposes, nonetheless, had some palliative effects.

First, the exigencies of the civil war and particularly for purposes of undercutting the secessionist Biafra, the General Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Military Government (FMG) abolished the four-regional structure in 1967; Nigeria was reconstituted into a 12-state federation in which the eastern minorities were excised from the dominant Ibo majority to become South Eastern and Rivers States. In the North, the Middle Belt minorities were reconfigured into Benue-Plateau State while in the West Lagos State was carved out from the rest of the Yoruba which came to be known as Western region. Subsequent restructuring was to further fragment the states into 19, 21 and 36 in 1976, 1987 and 1996, respectively. (12)

Second, stringent conditions were enshrined in the 1979 Constitution to regulate party formation and organization as well as a 1977 Electoral Decree that specified new rules of electoral competition, all with a view to stamping out the mischief of ethno-regional electoral behavior. Besides, there was a change from the parliamentary to the presidential system of government because it was believed that the oppositional politics associated with the former may have contributed to democracy's travails in the country.

Overall, state creation was expected to create or recalibrate social identities and social movements around the newly created states rather than the ethnic group or old regions. This is a legitimate expectation in view of the recognition that there exists a relationship between state structure and social consciousness. (13) To some extent, it has actually altered the way Nigerians see themselves. Especially as a result of what has been described as the "distributive imperative of Nigeria's federalism," (14) that has been driving state and local government reorganizations after the 1967 exercise, states have become a veritable basis for "we" and "them" differentiation even for people from the same ethnic group.

Yet, ethno-regional thinking and grouping politically remain strong. For example, even though the former Northern region has been reconstituted into 19 states in the present 36-state structure, the governors of these states, irrespective of party affiliation, meet regularly under the banner of Northern Governors' Forum. The same goes for the six states of the old Western region and the five states into which the former Eastern region shorn of the South Eastern minorities has been constituted. The six states into which the South Western and South Eastern ethnic minorities have been reorganized meet on the platform of South-South Governors. Indeed, it is a measure of the strength of regional thinking that the governors' groupings reflect the four- regional structure of the First Republic rather than the six geo-political zones now more commonly used for sharing political offices by the ruling PDP.

In fact, as it turned out, there was no significant difference between 1959 and 1979 in terms of the salience of ethnicity in relation to electoral politics. An authoritative study has revealed that there was strong ethnic bias or bloc voting during both elections and that "despite the national integrative provisions of the 1977 Electoral Decree or any other legal or administrative stipulations, ethnic voting persisted in the country." (15) The major parties of the Second Republic were reincarnations of those of the First Republic and they retained their dominance in the same ethno-geopolitical territories. The National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Nigeria People's Party (NPP) and People's Redemption Party (PRP) were rebrands of the NPC, AG, NCNC and NEPU, respectively. The fifth party of the Second Republic, the Great Nigeria People's Party (GNPP) led by a First Republic politician, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, was a breakaway group from the NPP. Alhaji Shehu Shagari who became President on the platform of the NPN was a top member of the NPC. More significantly, the remaining three of the five political parties of the Second Republic retained the same leaders as their forebears; namely, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Mallam Aminu Kano. Thus, continuity, from the debilitating ethno-regional politics of the colonial era until the end of the first post-independence republic, was provided by these politicians.

Nevertheless, there were signs of improvements in certain areas, indicating that some of the measures may have had some effects. For instance, all five parties in 1979 fielded candidates in at least two-thirds of the 19 states, indicating an improvement on 1959 in terms of spread outside their ethno- regional bases. The electoral performance of the parties in the three geographical regions as shown in tables I and 2 is quite illustrative.

The performance of the NPC in table 1 and that of what we regard as its alter ego, the NPN in table 2, is a striking illustration of the improvements in the efforts to go beyond earlier ethno-regional limits. The two parties won the highest number of seats in the North as well as in the three regions combined in 1959 and 1979. But, while the NPC had no seat from the East and West in 1959, the NPN had 37 of the 103 seats in the East, representing 36% and 11 of the 109 seats in the West or 10.1% in 1979. Thus, even though the results in table 2 still indicate a strong sense of ethno-regional mobilization and support for each of the parties as the NPP, NPN and UPN were dominant in the East, North and West, respectively, it nonetheless represents and marked the beginning of a new trend which became more pronounced in the 1983 elections as shown in table 3.

Again, the tables reveal that "the three dominant parties still retained their ethnic loyalty and support. The NPP won in the Igbo-dominated states, the NPN won in Hausa-Fulani states of the North, and the UPN did the same in the Yoruba--dominated West including Lagos." (16)

But these sources also reveal a more radical encroachment of the NPN into the East and West. This becomes clearer when the results in table 3 are disaggregated on a state by state basis as in Appendix I. In the two core Ibo states of Anambra and Imo, the NPN had one more, and half the seats respectively. The results are even more revealing when the figures for the old Eastern Region are considered to include the non-Ibo minority states of Cross Rivers and Rivers. It was found that the NPN had 65 out of the 101 seats representing 64.4% while the NPP won 34 seats or 36.7%. The same pattern is shown for the West. In the two core Yoruba states of Ondo and Oyo, the NPN bettered the UPN, supposedly the home party, with 17 to 3 and 35 to 7, respectively. In terms of the overall total for the old West, including Bendel and Lagos states, the NPN had 70 out of the 106 seats or 66% as against the UPN's 36 seats or 34%.

In the 1999 military-supervised elections, after 16 years of military I rule, the new pattern in which a dominant party, usually with its highest number of seats from the North, encroaches significantly into the East and West was maintained. Thus, as could be seen in Table 4, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) had 77% of the seats in the East and 28.8% of the seats in the West. The old pattern of identification of the East with an "Eastern" party like the NCNC and NPP of the First and Second Republics had completely disappeared! It was only in the West that a strong sense of continuity with the past was maintained as represented by the Alliance for Democracy (AD) which won 37 of its 39 seats from the West. This recoil of the West is obviously attributable to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election believed to have been won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola from the region. Even when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, another illustrious son of the region, emerged as the flag bearer of the PDP in the 1999 elections, the West virtually denied him their votes. He only became President on the strength of the PDP machine.

By the 2007 general elections, the trend of demolition of regional enclaves reached its peak. Only scant evidence of any sense of regional support could be found in very weak parties that won a few seats in just one or two regions such as the Action Congress (AC), Action Alliance (AA), Progressive People's Alliance (PPA) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). A comparative look at Tables 4 and 5 substantiates this point. For example, in 2007 (Table5), the PDP increased its share of seats in the West from 28.8% in 1999 (Table 4) to 74.1% and from 77% to 96. 1% in the East.

The trend in the demolition of ethnic enclaves shown in the foregoing analysis of election results of the House of Representatives from 1959 to 2007, and which first became more pronounced with the so called "landslide" victory of the ruling NPN in 1983, is reproduced, and perhaps more acutely so, in gubernatorial elections especially since 1983. This is best illustrated in the Yoruba states in the South West, where, evidence of the maintenance of some measure of continuity with the pattern of ethno-regional party affiliation and support since the colonial era appears to be strongest. The reincarnation of First Republic regional parties in the Second Republic as UPN, NPN and NPP for the AG, NPC and NCNC, respectively, was common to all three regions, West, North and East.

But following the death of each of the First Republic politicians--in particular Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who provided the link between the two republics, there seemed to be a near total break with the past, at least for the East. Other reforms and developments also contributed to the break. For instance, General lbrahim Babangida created two political parties by fiat in 1992--the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP)--and compelled all politicians to fit into either one of them. While the East produced both NRC and SDP governors, the West, including Edo and Delta states, returned only SDP candidates as governors in 1992 in a manner reminiscent of the region's support for the AG and UPN.

Again, in 1999 when three parties emerged--Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP) which later changed its name to All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD), none could be more closely identified with an ethno-regional group as the AD was with the Yoruba West. In fact, the AD and its alter ego in 2007, the Action Congress (AC), could be described as progenies of AG. Thus, all the governors in the core Yoruba states including Lagos were elected on the platform of the AD in 1999. But by 2003 the trend caught up with the West. With the exception of the Lagos AD governor, who was returned for a second term, all others were upset by PDP candidates. (18) Earlier, in 1983, the NPN had similarly upset popular UPN governors. (19)

Another significant illustration is the election of candidates from minority ethnic groups within multi-ethnic states best exemplified by Delta state in the 2007 gubernatorial elections. In that state, the Urhobo is arguably the dominant ethnic group. It shares a part of one of the three Senatorial Zones--the South Senatorial Zone with the Itsekiri, I jaw and isoko and occupies the whole of Delta Central Senatorial Zone by itself. Since the state's creation in 1991, and until the 2007 elections, three previous governorships were held in which only Urhobo were elected in December 1991, February 1999 and April 2003. (20)

Given this strong sense of ethnic voting, there were fears that nothing would stand in the way of the Urhobo any time they desired to put one of their own in Government House, Asaba. For the Itsekiri, the smallest ethnic group with a long history of colonialism-induced ethnic rivalry with the Urhobo in particular, (21) it was a confirmation of their fears which caused them to oppose the creation of the state for a long time. The need to allay those fears was said to have been behind the eventual creation of the state to include the Ibos west of the Niger who neither by history nor geography belonged to the Delta. (22) The results of those three elections were therefore clear indications that the Ibos west of the Niger had failed to be an effective bulwark against Urhobo domination. This could only have heightened their fears, especially in light of boasts by some prominent Urhobo elites on state television, as the 2007 elections drew near, that nothing was going to stop them from returning to power. Nor could the fears be assuaged by any hope of a grand anti-Urhobopro Itsekiri coalition. This is because, as in the previous elections, the Ibos and other groups were fielding their own candidates.

Against the forgoing background, therefore, the emergence of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan as governor of Delta state must be seen for what it is: an historic and rare teat. As one well-informed observer put it:
   The ascendancy of Emmannuel (sic) Eweta Uduaghan, a
   medical doctor, turned politician, to the exalted position of
   the governor of Delta State, is one that has not ceased to
   confound political pundits and foes alike. When he indicated
   interest to contest the position in 2007 with the ambition of
   taking over the baton of leadership from his predecessor,
   and younger cousin, James Onanefe Ibori, many saw his
   aspiration as one huge joke carried too far. To them, it was
   a tall order. How could a man from the smallest ethnic group
   in the state ever conceive of such a seemingly crazy idea not
   to talk of going to town with it? (23)

In the end, Uduaghan triumphed over several candidates in the PDP to clinch the party's ticket. Also, in the main election, he defeated a prominent Urhobo who contested on the platform of the Democratic People's Party (DPP) and an equally wealthy and influential Ibo of the Action Congress (AC). (24)

On the whole, the pattern of electoral politics that has emerged is one in which one party is dominant--NPN, 1979-1983; and PDP, since 1999 securing "landslide" and "milestone" victories in ethno-regional spaces that had been the exclusive preserves of specific ethno-regional forces. In the Second Republic, this produced fears of gravitation towards a one- party state. Similar concerns are also being raised about how far Nigeria's experiment with multi-party democracy in the Fourth Republic can go without a viable opposition to the PDP.

Beyond showing that this is the trend, however, there is the need to address several pertinent questions thrown up by the observed pattern. For instance, by what means has this "feat" been achieved? Or, how do we account for this development? What does this evolving pattern mean? Is it a sign that ethnicity, the "red devil" of African politics has been overcome and the people and politicians moving closer in the direction of national unity and integration?. What are the consequences of this trend? Could this pattern and the forces that produced it not be as harmful to democracy, if not more harmful to it, than the one it has displaced? It is to these questions that we direct our attention in the next section as part of what obviously is going to be a continuing debate until sufficient empirical evidence is accumulated to permit more or less frozen positions at least on some of them.


Ordinarily, the incursion of parties into regions traditionally regarded as the exclusive preserve of some ethno-regional groups, or victory of candidates from minority ethnic groups in multi-ethnic states, should have been a welcome sign that political parties are alive to their integrative functions, ethnic and particularistic tendencies are being transcended and democracy is indeed maturing. Such can only be inferred, however, if the processes that produced the victories were tree and fair elections devoid of corruption. Here, corruption is used in the ordinary sense of the word to include perversion, dishonesty, distortion, impurity, bribery, manipulation and any such thing that makes the people's votes not to count and, hence, makes mockery of democracy.

The pattern of demolition of ethnic enclaves described in the preceding section can be linked to increasing corruption of the electoral process. The encroachment of the dominant party into hitherto exclusive domains of ethno-regional parties has been achieved mainly through manipulation of the electoral process. In this connection, the incumbency factor has played a significant role. Somehow, in each of the first post military rule elections, which were usually supervised by the out-going military regime, parties tended to maintain some ethno-regional bases even though one party emerged as dominant overall. As shown in table 2, the UPN and NPP were strongly based in the West and East respectively in 1979 in spite of the overall dominance of the NPN. Similarly, in 1999, the AD held the grounds in the West as could be seen in table 4. But as the dominant parties conducted subsequent elections, they tended to eliminate the opposition too dramatically and sometimes too rapidly. A comparative look at tables 2 and 4 shows the quantum leap of the NPN from controlling 36% of the seats from the East in the House of Representatives in 1979 to 64.3% in 1983 and from a mere 10. 1% of seats in 1979 to a whopping 66% within the next four years in the West. In the same way, tables 4 and 5 reveal the PDP's share of seats in the East rose from 77% in 1999 to 96.1% in 2007 and from just 28.8% to 74.1% in the West within the same period.

Incontrovertible evidences from a plethora of authoritative sources already exist on the pervasive presence, magnitude, manifestations and increasing intensity of corruption in electoral politics in Nigeria (25). In the three general elections between 1999 and 2007, the situation grew from bad in 1999, worse in 2003, to worst in 2007. For example, the verdict of an outstanding political scientist, after analysis of the 2003 elections, is that "voters and politicians alike know that votes are unequal and that the opinions of corrupt INEC officials, party leaders, security agents and the Presidency count more in determining electoral outcomes than votes." (26) Similarly, the European Union (EU) Report on the 2007 election is loaded with graphic details of all forms of electoral fraud and malpractices in all parts of the country. For example, it is stated that:
   In Cross River State, a PDP agent collected ballot papers
   from the table of the presiding officer, checked the mark and
   inserted them into the ballot box, while in Collation Centres
   in Enugu and Ebonyi States, PDP agents assumed a leading
   role in the counting process.... Again, EU observers
   witnessed many cases of fraud and attempted fraud. For
   example, unused ballot papers were marked and stuffed into
   the ballot box resulting in almost 100 per cent turnout. This
   was observed in four polling stations in Ogun State. Also,
   ballot box stuffing was witnessed by EU observers in the
   States of Plateau and Gombe, at a Collation Centre in Enugu
   State and in the house of a village chief in Nasarawa State
   where the polling station had been moved to. In Akwa Ibom,
   ballot stuffing on a large scale was observed with 50 polling
   station result forms in LGA Ibono-Ibom producing a 97.9
   per cent turnout. In the same state, EU observers witnessed
   a presiding officer inserting the ballot papers of an entire
   ballot paper booklet in the ballot box that had been
   prethumb-printed for the ruling party. Inflation of results on
   official result forms at every level of the collation process
   was observed.... and in Niger State, temporarily missing
   ballot box was returned with an almost 100 per cent turnout
   and ballot papers all marked for the ruling party.... In Niger
   and Jigawa States, cases of vote buying on behalf of the
   ruling party were observed with INEC staff and police
   officers taking no action. Results of a polling station were
   changed in Gombe State after counting. Fraudulent changes
   of election results also occurred in Ogun State: EU
   observers attended the counting in a polling station where 58
   out of 488 registered voters cast their votes. During the

   collation process, these figures were changed to a 100 per cent
   turnout with the ruling party receiving 400 votes. (27)

In addition to the foregoing, there are cases of manipulation of the electoral process from the very top. For example, the INEC Chairman announced the gubernatorial results in Delta and Ondo States even though the Resident Electoral Commissioners in both states had not announced the results at state level as required. Also, he announced the results of the presidential election, declaring Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of the PDP as winner at a time when only 11 or 12 state presidential results had been collated. These instances were rightly captured as "developments that cast further doubt on the integrity of the results. (28) In addition to the damning EU Reports which are very representative of the views of other observers, subsequent scholarly accounts have rated the 2007 general elections as the most fraudulent in Nigeria's history. In fact, Umaru Musa Yar Adua who emerged as President was to admit that the electoral process which brought him to power was "highly flawed." (29)

Corruption of the electoral process, especially of the nature and magnitude in Nigeria, simply means that votes do not count. Consequently, standard variables known to influence electoral outcomes, such as personal qualities of candidates, issues, party programs and ideologies, can hardly been used to explain electoral outcomes there. Even if it can be conceded that there could have been a few instances in which victory or defeat had depended on such variables in local elections, they have hardly been significant bases of differentiation between candidates and parties in Nigeria especially in elections that cut across ethnic boundaries. Parties are hardly ideological or programmatic and politics is rarely issue-oriented. This is one major reason that ethnicity and money have played more determinate roles in electoral outcomes and many a popular candidate has failed to get elected. (30)

Thus, the victory of minority candidates in multi ethnic states, typified by Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan in Delta state in 2007, can best be accounted for in terms of the massive fraud and corruption which characterized the electoral process. This is not to imply that the ethnic situation in Nigeria and in that state in particular is so bad that an Urhobo or Ibo man could not be expected to vote for an Itsekiri man. In fact, the ordinary people live harmoniously on a daily basis and it is difficult to differentiate one from the other. Yet, as the violent ethno-political conflicts in Warri, Delta state since 1999 and elsewhere in Nigeria such as hitherto peaceful Jos in Plateau state demonstrate, there remain sufficient ethnic sentiments that could be mobilized for political and or religious purposes.

Indeed, ethnic relations in Nigeria have neither reached a homogenous level nor has meritocracy become a well accepted norm that the Urhobo or the Ibo would dump their sons for an Itsekiri in a one man one vote affair to determine who occupies Government House in Asaba. It is therefore reasonable to ascribe electoral victories in 2007, that were out of tune with the reality of the ethnic composition of an electoral constituency, to electoral fraud. Beyond conjectures, reason and logic, empirical evidence exists that shows the reality of the determinacy of corruption in electoral outcomes. For example, in the Delta state case, a recent empirical study has shown that Chief James Onanefe Ibori, incumbent governor who was constitutionally barred from running for a third term, was instrumental to ensuring that his maternal cousin, Uduaghan, succeeded him. To this end, the power of incumbency and state resources were massively deployed to compromise the electoral process right from the party primaries in much the same way that President Olusegun Obasanjo "imposed" Umaru Musa Yar'Adua on Nigeria as President. In the real governorships, voting did not take place in several parts of the state, especially in the ethnic enclaves of the PDP candidate's opponents.

To be sure, corruption of the electoral process is not a new phenomenon worldwide and in Nigeria for that matter. Vote buying through monetary inducement has been reported in county elections in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries and in Nigeria during Regional Assembly elections in the 1950s. (31) Thus, with respect to electoral politics, ethnicity and corruption may have been two lions littered in one day but, until the fall of the First Republic, ethnicity was clearly the elder and more terrible. It was in the Second Republic that corruption started its ascendancy due to a number of factors related to Nigeria's political economy. During the colonial period and the First Republic, each of the three, and later four, regions were well endowed with agricultural products that yielded the bulk of government revenues that were controlled by each region. It has been demonstrated that the regional elites took undue advantage of their access to state power to amass wealth for themselves and that the recourse to ethnicity was primarily for the purpose of the exclusion of "outsiders". (32) The federal center was not as important then and, since none of the major ethnic groups could gain control at that level, they were content to form governments in the existing parliamentary or cabinet system through alliances.

By the Second Republic, however, oil found within the territories of the ethnic minorities in the Niger Delta had not only become the mainstay of the economy but its ownership and control had been transferred to the federal center. Thus, the theatre of electoral competition and conflict had to shift there as well. With no ethnic group having the kind of overwhelming majority as they had in the regions coupled with the presidential system, for purposes of election of the president, the entire country became one constituency, and it no longer made strategic sense to play the ethnic game. Therefore, although some forms of ethnic patterns of mobilization and support were noticeable, ethnicity did not occupy the front burner in the 1979 elections as in previous elections.

In fact, the improvements referred to earlier from tables 2 and 3 are traceable to this fact. The struggle between Awolowo and Shagari as to whether the latter had two-thirds of 19 states was certainly not ethnic but a reflection of the new reality that politicians needed more than ethnic support to gain control of the center.

By 1983, when elections were due, Shagari and his ruling NPN could not have forgotten how narrow the road to power was in 1979 and the difficulty of the NPN/NPP Accord would not have been lost either. With neither ideology nor a well articulated program that could win overwhelming national acceptance over other parties, and in the face of loss of access to wealth that was the grim reward for loss of power, all parties had to rely on corrupt electoral practices. Of course, the NPN, relying on the incumbency factor, out rigged all others to clinch its so called "landslide" victory in 1983 the same way the PDP has been doing since 1999. In fact, the strength of the PDP and the NPN before it is because they provided the broadest coalition for sharing oil revenues. It is no coincidence that the PDP's Motto: "PDP: Power to the People" has come to be popularly recast as "PDP: Share the Money" and the NPN was known as "chop I chop" party. Specifically, it has been suggested that the Yoruba allowed their states to fall to the PDP in 2003 because of their desire to have more access to the oil largesse."

Another factor in the ascendancy and increasing sophistication of electoral corruption is the disdain for the people by the political elites. The observation that "many regimes care so little about their own people," (34) made about some other Third World countries, is particularly relevant to Nigeria, where it has been shown that the political class places very low value on the people. By implication, they are averse to any government of the people, for the people and by the people. Thus, such basic minimums of democracy such as periodic elections and accountability offend their sensibilities. But under a regime of ethnic politics, such as prevailed until the end of the First Republic, politicians were compelled to appeal to their own people for support which they often got not necessarily because the people were ignorant of their selfish devices, or carried away by their inducements in cash or kind, but more due to an underlying philosophy of "the devil you know is better than the angel you don't know".

Since the political economy as mentioned above made ethnic appeals less relevant, the political class has been progressively discounting the people, ensuring that fewer people are consulted, "settled" or used as instruments for achieving their objective of the capture and use of state power primarily for their benefit. Politicians have come to realize that they could achieve their common interest without seeking endorsement by their respective ethnic groups with all the problems that have been known to accompany ethnic politics. Rather, it has come to be understood among them that it is better to be endorsed by the party hierarchy, which, in the absence of internal democracy within the parties, determines who becomes the party's flag bearer through fraudulent party primaries even for state and local government elections. Of course, party hierarchies and kingmakers anoint only persons who in their calculations would allow them access to state resources or help cover their corrupt tracts. It is in this way that candidates from demographically insignificant ethnic groups could emerge as governors in multi-ethnic states like Delta, and an ailing candidate, who could hardly carry through an electioneering campaign, could get imposed as President over 140 million people.


Ethnicity and electoral corruption are probably as old as electoral politics in Nigeria but until the end of the First Republic the former was more salient. However, in spite of the apparent continuity with ethnicity as represented for instance in the reincarnation of ethno-regional parties during the Second Republic, there has been a noticeable reduction in the salience of ethnicity in electoral politics since 1979 and a corresponding increase in the phenomenon of electoral corruption in Nigeria just as corruption itself is becoming the greatest obstacle to the country's development rather than ethnic heterogeneity. Although both were implicated in the fall of the First Republic, ethnicity explained a larger part of that collapse than corruption which was indexed then by 10% of contract sums. On the contrary, the Second Republic fell essentially due to prebendalism and electoral corruption rather than ethnicity. (35) Presently, corruption generally is indexed by up to 100% of contract sums as there are cases where the total amount allocated to a project have been withdrawn, job certified done on paper but nothing on the ground. There is therefore a nexus among rise in corruption, increase in electoral corruption and reduction in the salience of ethnicity in electoral politics.

In other words, the reduction in the relevance of ethnicity in electoral politics as evidenced by the capture of ethnic enclaves by ruling dominant parties and the electoral gubernatorial victories of minorities in multi-ethnic states is not the result of the effectiveness of any reform measures designed to eliminate the monster of ethnicity. Neither is the reduction an indication that ethnicity no longer matter in Nigerian society and politics. The increasing frequency and intensity of violent conflicts involving ethnic groups since the rebirth of party politics in 1999 is a clear pointer to the fact that ethnicity is well and alive and could be mobilized wherever and whenever it is considered useful to individuals and groups.

Rather, the reduction is the product of changes in Nigeria's political economy, especially the ascendancy of oil, and to some extent, the adoption of the presidential system which has made ethnicity less useful than corruption as a strategy for electoral success. Unfortunately, the same forces which led to a reduction in ethnicity in electoral politics have brought about a corresponding increase in electoral corruption which is further accentuated by the disdain of politicians for the people.

Thus, from simple inducement through cash girl, distribution of salt or other items and provision of drinks and transportation to polling venues in the 1950s through the 1970s, electoral corruption by 2007 became so sophisticated to the point that the people's participation and votes no longer counted. Election results are now arranged in government houses or court chambers and winners are known before or without voting. The implications of these are many and debatable but it is beyond doubt that as far as democratic theory is concerned, there can be no democracy without the people and their participation. Much as ethnic politics is to be denounced, it offers some opportunity for participation by the people, expression of some democratic principles such as majority rule and some of its negative sides can be, and have indeed been overcome to elect candidates that could be nationally accepted as in the case of Chief M.K.O.Abiola in 1993.

Interestingly, the few incidents of post-election violence following the fraudulently obtained victories of the PDP could not be compared with the "wild wild west" of the First Republic. (36) The South West has neither erupted because the PDP has overrun it nor the Urhobo made Delta State ungovernable because an Itsekiri has stolen their "birth right" as governor. Sustained violent reaction may never come from the ordinary people because their votes did not count. While this may go to show that the people had never really been the problem with ethnic politics, it would be simplistic and foolhardy to assume that electoral corruption can continue without dire consequences. The possible implosion within the dominant party and among the dominant class as a result of exclusion from power and access to accompanying wealth occasioned by electoral corruption could prove more disastrous, even fatal, to the country. Hitherto, the world has known that "blood is thicker than water" but we may yet know that money, particularly oil money, is thicker than blood.

Indeed, the Nigerian case presented in this study speaks to developments beyond her borders. It is a reflection of happenings in other African and Third World countries. It reechoes the arguments of Dependency theory that, in spite of differences, there is an unholy alliance between the local bourgeoisie and foreign capital. There is a global trend in which ethnic, racial and religious impediments have been and are increasingly being systematically demolished within and across national boundaries by the common interests of the bourgeoisie. The Bush family for instance has been known to have long standing relationships spanning over six decades with the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. (37)

No doubt, such unholy alliances create the impression of harmonious co-existence among peoples and nations of different hues and creed and may have brought friendship, wealth and power to some individuals and families. Yet, the increasing frequency and intensity of violent domestic and international conflicts occasioned by unholy alliances among the ruling class are suggestive that the displacement of ethnicity by corruption imperils democracy and merely places people and places between the devil and the deep blue sea.
State by State Party Strength in the House of
Representatives in 1983

               NPN   UPN   NPP   PRP   Total
Anambra        15    --    14    --     29
Cross River    26     2    --    --     28
Imo            10    --    20    --     30
Rivers         14    --    --    --     14
Bauchi         20    --    --    --     20
Benue          15    --     4    --     19
Borno          24    --    --    --     24
Gongola        21    --    --    --     21
Kaduna         33    --    --    --     33
Kano           33    --     2    11     46
Kwara           9     5    --    --     14
Niger           8    --     2    --     10
Plateua        10    --     6    --     16
Sokoto         37     -    --    --     37
Abuja           1    --    --    --      1

               NPN   UPN   NPP   PRP   Total
Bendel         18     2    --    --     20
Lagos          --    12    --    --     12
Ogun           --    12    --    --     12
Ondo           17     3    --    --     20
Oyo            35     7    --    --     42
Total                                   450

Source: Adapted from Nnadozie, Uche 0

State by State Party Strength in the House of Representatives in 1999

               PDP   ANPP   AD


Abia            7     1     --
Akwa-Ibom       8     2     --
Anambra        10     1     --
Bayelsa         3     1     1
Cross Rivers    3     5     --
Ebonyi         NA     NA    NA
Enugu          NA     NA    NA
lmo             6     4     --
Rivers         13     --    --
Sub-Total      50     14    1


Adamawa         8     --    --
Bauchi          9     3     --
Benue           9     1     --
Bomo            3     5     --
Gombe          NA     NA    NA
Jigawa         NA     NA    NA
Kaduna         12     3     --
Kano           22     1     --
Katsina        16     --    --
Kebbi          NA     NA    NA
Kogi            3     5     1
Kwara           1     5     --
Nasarawa        1     5     --
Niger          NA     NA    NA
Plateau         8     --    --
Sokota          5     9     --
Taraba         NA     NA    NA
Yobe            2     4     --
Zamfara         1     6     --
Sub-Total      99     42    1


Lagos          NA     NA    NA
Ogun           --     --    12
Ondo            1     --    7
Osun           NA     NA    NA
Oyo             2     --    12
Ekiti          --     --    6
Edo             8     1     --
Delta           6     4     --
Sub-Total      17     5     37


(1.) Ethnicity was often seen by nationalists and scholars alike as an impediment to national unity and patriotism. As lately as 1998, Ebere Onwudiwe still regarded it as being "more than the "red devil" of contemporary Africa. See his Editor's letter, "The Problem of Leadership in Africa" The International Journal of African Studies. Vol. 1. No. 2, Spring, 1998, p.ii.

(2.) The Urhobo (majority) and Itsekiri (minority) are two neighboring oil-rich ethnic groups in Delta State that are socially, culturally and economically related and interdependent but have a long history of colonialism-induced rivalry. For details, see Obaro Ikime, Niger Delta Rivalry: Itsekiri. Urhobo Relations. (London: Longman, 1969.); P.P. Ekeh, (ed.) Warri City and British Colonial Rule in Western Niger Delta. (Buffalo, NY: Urhobo Historical Society, 2004.); See also, E.E. Osaghae, "Managing Multiple Minority Problems in a Divided Society: The Nigerian Experience" The Journal of Modern African Studies, 36, 1 (1998) pp. 1-24.

(3.) See, Oyeleye Oyediran, "Background to Military Rule" in: Oyeleye Oyediran (ed.). Nigerian Government and Politics Under Military Rule, 1966-79. (London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1979.) pp.17-22; Richard A. Joseph. Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.) pp. 170-183.

(4.) This is characteristic of Marxist scholars who see ethnicity as a secondary contradiction. See for example, Okwudiba Nnoli, Ethnic Politics in Nigeria. (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1978). See also Richard L. Sklar," The Contributions of Tribalism to Nationalism in Western Nigeria" The Journal of Human Relations Vol. 8, Nos. 3-4 (Spring-Summer, 1960) pp.407-418.

(5.) These include: Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle. Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Stability. (Columbus, OH: Merrill, 1972): Donald L. Horowitz. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Donald L. Horowitz, "Democracy in Divided Societies" Journal of Democracy. Vol. 4 No. 4 1993 pp. 18-38, and Benjamin Reilly, Democracy in Divided Societies." Electoral Engineering for Conflict Management. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.)

(6.) Shaheen Mozaffar. "Party, Ethnicity and Democratization in Africa," Handbook of Party Politics, 2006. SAGE Publications, 3 Sep.2009.

(7.) Ibid. p.3.

(8.) Richard L. Sklar. Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963) p. 46.

(9.) Ibid.

(10.) See E.E. Osaghae, "Managing Multiple Minority Problems"

(11.) See note 3 above.

(12.) The creation of States and Local Governments is a recurring issue driven, according to Rotimi Suberu, by the "distributive imperative of Nigeria's federalism". See, Rotimi Suberu, State and Local Government Reorginisations in Nigeria. (Ibadan:IFRA, 1991.)

(13.) For discussion of the relationship between state structure and social consciousness, see, Theda Skocpol, "Bringing the State Back In: Strategies of Analysis in Current Research" In: Peter, B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and Theda Skocpol (eds.) Bringing the State Back In. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) pp. 1-37.

(14.) See, Rotimi Suberu, "State and Local government Reorganisations m Nigeria. See also his, Ethnic Minority Conflicts and Governance in Nigeria. (Ibadan: Spectrum Books and IFRA, 1996.)

(15.) Kurfi Amadu, The Nigerian General Elections 1959 and 1979 and Aftermath. (Lagos: Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Ltd., 1993) p. 177

(16.) Ibid.

(17.) O. Uche Nnadozie. "History of Elections in Nigeria" in: Godwin Onu and Abubakar Momoh (eds)., Elections and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria: Proceedings of 23rd Annual conference of the Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA), 2005

(18.) Ahmed Bola Tinubu was the Lagos State governor who got a second term. Adeniyi Adebayo (Ekiti), Olusegun Osoba (ogun), Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo) and Lam Adesina (Oyo) were upset by Ayo Fayose, Gbenga Daniel, Segun Agagu and Rasheed Ladoja respectively.

(19.) Bola Ige was replaced by Omololu Olunloyo in Oyo State and only the courts saved Michael Ajasin from losing occupancy of Government House, Akure to NPN's Omoboriowo.

(20.) The Urhobo who won were Olorogun Felix Ibru in 1991, while Chief James Onanefe Ibori won in 1999 and 2003.

(21.) See, Obaro Ikime, Niger Delta Rivalry

(22.) The western Ibo historically were administered under Benin Province. Each of the colonial provinces in Nigeria had metamorphosed into separate states. The desire to transform the old Delta Province into a state was frustrated for a long time by the Itsekiri who felt that the Urhobo would use their overwhelming majority to oppress them. Splitting the Old Bendel State along the boundaries of its constituent colonial provinces (Benin and Delta from which BENDEL was derived) would have placed the western Ibo in Edo State. The western Ibo had desired to be constituted into a separate Anioma State without success. They had to be brought into Delta State partly to assuage the itsekiri fears in the hope that they would be a countervailing force to the Urhobo and partly because the western Ibos themselves desired to be where there is more oil. For Itsekiri opposition to the creation of Delta State and how its eventual creation has created more conflict, see E.E. Osaghae, Managing Multiple Minority problems p.23.

(23.) Adekunbi Ero, "A Governor Favoured By History", Tell (Lagos) October 4, 2010, p.24.

(24.) The Urhobo candidate is Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru. His popularity among the Urhobo and indeed Niger Delta derived from his alleged role as financier of the botched April 1990 coup which sought to overthrow General Ibrahim Babangida and enhance the fortunes of oil-producing and Middle Belt minorities. The Ibo candidate is a wealthy and influential businessman, Peter Okocha.

(25.) See O. Uche Nnadozie. "History of Elections in Nigeria" in: Godwin Onu and Abubakar Momoh (eds.), Elections and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria: Proceedings of 23rd Annual conference of the Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA), 2005; Rotimi Suberu "Nigeria's Muddled Election" Journal of Democracy. Fall, 2008; See also references in note 3 above; and Emmanuel Onyebuchi Ezeani, "Electoral Malpractices in Nigeria" in: Godwin Onu and Abubakar Momoh (eds.) Elections and Democratic Consolidation m Nigeria pp. 413-431; Festus iyayi, "Elections and Electoral Practices in Nigeria." The Constitution. Vol. 5, June 2005. pp. 1-32; Amen Uhunmwhangho," Electoral Fraud and Other Malpractices in Nigeria: The Way Out". The Constitution Vol.8, No. 1 March 2008 pp. 24-33

(26.) Okechukwu Ibeanu. "Simulating Landslides: Primitive Acumulation of Votes and the Popular Mandate in Nigeria" in: Isaac Olawale Albert, Derrick Marco and Victor Adetula (eds.) Perspectives on the 2003 Elections in Nigeria. (Abuja: IDASA-NIGERIA, 2007) p.54.

(27.) See, Nigeria: EU Final Election Report, 2007

(28.) Ibid.

(29.) Rotimi Suberu, "Nigeria's Muddled Elections"

(30.) This accounts for why somebody like the late Lagos Lawyer and Human Rights activist, Chief Gani Fawenhinmi could not win election to become President of Nigeria.

(31.) Richard L. Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties p.29

(32.) Okwudiba Nnoli, Ethnic" Politics in Nigeria. (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1978.)

(33.) Okechukwu Ibeanu, "Simulating Landslides: Primitive Accumulation of Votes and the Popular Mandate in Nigeria."

(34.) Terry F. Buss with Adam Gardner, Haiti in the Balance." Why Foreign Aid has failed and what we can do about it. (Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2008.)

(35.) See, Richard A. Joseph, Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.)

(36.) In the First Republic, election rigging resulted in widespread violence in the West. In the aftermath of the widespread disenfranchisement of Deltans in the 2007 elections, old women went naked on the major roads in Warri and Effurun to issue curses on Chief James Onanefe Ibori whom they believed was responsible for conferring victory on Uduaghan without the people's votes.

(37.) See Craig Unger, House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties. (Gibson Square Books Ltd., 2007.) For the Documentary titled, "House of Saud", check the website of "Frontline," WGBH Boston.

By William Ehwarieme *

* Dr. William Ehwarieme is a Senior Lecturer and currently Acting Head of Department of Political Science, Delta State University, Abraka-Nigeria. He is grateful to the editorial team of JTWS and anonymous reviewers for useful correction and suggestions.
Table 1: Electoral Performance of Parties in Elections into the
House of  Representatives, 1959

Party              East        North        West *       Total

1. AG  (and      14(19.2%)   25(14.4%)   34(52.3%)     73(23.4%)
2. NCNC/NEPU     58(79.4%)    8(4.6%)    23(35.4%)     89(28.5%)
3. NPC            0(0%)     134(77%)      0(0%)       134(43%)
4. Others         1(1.4%)     7(4.0%)     8(12.3%)     16(5.1%)
Total            73(100%)   174(100%)    65(100%)     312(100%)

* Includes Lagos

Source: Amadu Kurfi, The Nigerian General Elections: 1959 and
1979 and the Aftermath.  (Lagos: Macmillan Nigerian Publishers
Ltd. 1993), p. 177

Table 2: Strength of Parties in 1979 in the House of

Party          East         North        West *        Total

1. UPN        2(1.9%)     13(5.4%)     96(88.1%)    111(24.7%)
2. NPP      60(58.2%)     16(6.7%)       2(l.8%)     78(17.3%)
3. NPN        37(36%)     121(51%)     11(10.1%)    169(37.5%)
4. PRP          0(0%)    49(20.6%)         0(0%)     49(11.0%)
5. GNPP       4(3.9%)    39(16.4%)         0(0%)     43(9.5%)
Total       103(100%)    238(100%)     109(100%)    450(100%)

* Includes Lagos

Source: Amadu, Kurfi. The Nigerian General Elections 1959 and
1979 and Aftermath. (Lagos: Macmillan Nigerian Publishers Ltd.
1993), p. 177

Table 3 Strength of Parties in 1983 in the House of

Party     East        North       West        Total

UPN      2(2%)       5(2%)     36(34%)     43(9.4%)
NPP     34(33.7%)   14(5.6%)    0(0%)      48(10.5%)
NPN     65(64.3%)   14(5.6%)   70(66%)    356(77.7%)
PRP      0(0%)      11(4.4%)    0(0%)      11(4.4%)
Total   101(100%)  251(100%)  106(100%)   458(100%)

Source: Adapted from Nnadozie Uche O. (17)

Table 4 Strength of Parties in 1999 in the House of

Party      East        North       West        Total

PDP      50(77/0%)   99(69/7%)   17(28.8%)   166(62.4%)
ANPP     14(21.5%)   42(29.6%)    5(8.5%)     61(22.9%)
AD        1(1.5%)     1(0.7%)    37(62.7%)    39(14.7%)
Total    65(100%)   142(100%)    59(100%)    266(100%)

Source: Compiled from the Nigerian National Assembly

Table 5 Strength of parties in 2007 in the House of

Party      East        North        West        Total

PDP      74(96.1%)   132(68.6%)   66(74.1%)   272(76%)
ANPP      0(0%)       54(28.1%)    3(3.4%)     57(16%)
AC        0(0%)        6(3.1%)    17(19.1%)    23(6.4%)
AA        0(0%)        0(0%)       3(3.4%)      3(0.8%)
PPA       2(2.6%)      0(0%)       0(0%)        2(0.5%)
APGA      1(1.3%)      0(0%)       0(0%)        1(0/3%)
Total    77(100%)    192(100%)    89(100%)    358(100%)

Source: Compiled from the Nigerian National Assembly
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Title Annotation:OTHER PAPERS
Author:Ehwarieme, William
Publication:Journal of Third World Studies
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Date:Sep 22, 2011
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