OIL-RICH NIGERIA is Africa's most populous country with an estimated 133 to 137 million residents from more than 250 ethnic and tribal groups. No census has been taken since 1960, some would say because of the decentralized, right-wing nature of the national government, which under a 1999 constitution has delegated political power away from the capital, giving extensive local authority and autonomy to its 36 states.

In 2003, 28 political parties registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission to participate in the next election, and 22 of the parties were new to the political scene. Nigeria had not held successful elections under civilian rulers since independence from Britain in 1960, with attempts in the mid-1960s and in 1983 ending in violence and army coups. Following nearly ...

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