Nailbiter poll in Nigeria

2015-03-29 15:00

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The country finally voted in mostly peaceful elections, but there were long delays and technical problems

After a postponement from February, Nigeria went to the polls yesterday.

An estimated 68.8?million voters were registered to elect a new president and 469 federal legislators this weekend.

The vote for 36 state governors and legislators will take place on April 11.

Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and his main challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), were among the 14 presidential candidates on the ballot.

These were Nigeria’s fourth general elections since the transition to civilian rule in 1999.

The governing PDP has dominated all federal elections, winning 25% of votes cast in two-thirds of the country’s 36 states and the capital, Abuja.

The major issues in this election were power, security, corruption and the economy.

Nigeria recently upstaged South Africa as the continent’s largest economy after a recalculation of its gross domestic product, but Jonathan’s record on power, security and corruption has been dismal, drawing severe criticism even from leading members of his own party, including former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

This could be the tightest vote in 16 years.

Voting day began with delays and technical problems and, by mid-morning, only 68% of polling stations were open, said election observers Transition Monitoring Group (TMG).

The BBC reported that voters, who needed to first register using biometric cards before they made their crosses, were frustrated, as card readers worked slowly, if at all.

Even Jonathan was held up by the system and spent 50 minutes trying to register in Otuoke, his home village.

In the northern city of Kano, thousands of voters waited for election officials and voting materials to arrive.

“We’ve been here since 6am and now it’s 9.30am,” Ismail Omar (65) told AFP news agency.

Buhari registered in his home town of Daura without any problems and praised the accreditation system.

“If people are allowed to vote, rigging will actually be impossible under this system.”

The elections were held amid heightened security, and police were deployed to all polling stations.

AFP reported that gunmen believed to be affiliated to Boko Haram killed two people at a voting station in Gombe State. And in Enugu State, police carried out a controlled explosion after a car bomb was found.

The BBC reported that there were claims of election monitors being chased away from polling stations, with a TMG spokesperson saying groups of young people and party agents were intimidating observers in three areas in the south of the country.

The toughness of the race, which could result in the first democratic transfer of power in Nigeria’s postcolonial history, was not the only reason this election was different from any other in recent times.

Other reasons included:

.?Use of card readers. After weeks of hairsplitting among the main contenders, the electoral commission stood its ground to use card readers to authenticate the identities of voters. The cards, with readable chips, are being used for the first time. The electoral commission said a recent test run in 12 states was successful.

The use of the cards was expected to considerably reduce widespread reports of ghost voters and ballot stuffing, which marred previous elections.

.?Opposition reloaded. Until now, Nigeria was a multiparty state only in name. The opposition had been too weak and fragile to take on the ruling party, inspiring taunts by PDP leaders that they would rule for at least 60 years.

The merger by four parties to form the APC and the implosion of the ruling party, which led to the loss of five of its state governors, dealt a major blow to the PDP.

.?Divided we stand. Campaigns divide, but election campaigns divide dangerously. The last three general elections may have set party against party and stirred up at least four of Nigeria’s 250 ethnic groups against each other, but this election has taken the prize.

In addition to political and ethnic divisions, politicians have played Christians against Muslims and, even within the faiths, denominations have turned on each other.

The latest casualty was the labour congress, where routine elections descended into chaos and ended with the emergence of two factions.

.?Election in the midst of war. The war on militant Islamist group Boko Haram did not start today. Over the past year, the group has killed and abducted thousands of people, including dozens of school children, and captured territory almost the size of Northern Ireland.

The government cited the surge in the sect’s activities as the reason for shifting the poll from February 14 to yesterday. Over the past six weeks, a combination of regional forces and mercenaries has retaken territories, but the war rages on.

.?Share the money. Oil prices may be falling, but there is no shortage of accusations of obscene campaign spending. The opposition APC recently accused the PDP of spending $5?billion (R60?billion) on its election campaign, an accusation the ruling party denied.

In December, however, the PDP raked in $96?million at a single fundraiser, far in excess of the permissible limit.

During his whistle-stop tour, local newspapers reported that Jonathan brought down “showers of dollar rain” in the palaces of prominent traditional rulers to get their support.

“We have never seen this kind of spending before,” Emeka Okafor, a financial consultant, said. “The full story will come after the elections.”

.?Two accords make a treaty. On Thursday, Jonathan and Buhari signed a second peace accord within three months. But the post-electoral violence in 2011, which left 800 dead, and recent inflammatory rhetoric by party supporters have heightened fears of another round of violence after yesterday’s poll.

The first accord, brokered by Kofi Annan and former Commonwealth secretary-general Emeka Anyaoku, failed.

Jonathan and Buhari hugged each other again after Thursday’s accord, with promises to rein in their supporters. It remains to be seen if the public display of affection was more than just another photo op.

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