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Archive for the ‘Nigeria Elections’ Category

Picture featured in with an April 18th New York Times article headlined: Nigeria's President Wins Election.

A popular Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, gave an excellent TED Talk about the danger of a single story-a story that shows one side but not the other. When I saw this article in the New York Times that was supposedly about Goodluck Jonathan winning the presidency, I felt appalled at the one-sidedness of it. While the headline implies that it will be about Jonathan winning, it focuses entirely on fighting that broke out in the northern part of Nigeria after he was declared the winner. It is true that fighting broke out in the north after Goodluck won. But hundreds of polling places around Nigeria saw nothing but peace and cooperation during the vote. Fighting in the north is not the only story to Nigeria’s 2011 election.

It is true that shocking stories about violence and agression sell papers–– look at a Nigerian newspaper and you will almost surely see gruesome pictures that show people bloodied after fights. People usually don’t care to read that “all is well and the people are happy.” In a case like Nigeria’s current election, reporting on the fighting and not the peace completely negates the possibility for people outside Nigeria to see the progress in this election. Not enough positive reporting has been done abroad about the election when there really is so much to say about how hard Nigerians are working for peace and how far this country has come. The New York Times printed two news articles about Nigeria’s election, one on April 22nd titled, Election Result Fuels Deadly Clashes in Nigeria and on April 18th titled, Nigeria’s President Wins Re-Election. Even most of the pictures on BBC’s Nigeria Elections homepage depict violence. These stories are valuable but it is vital to report the full story. Nigeria has a pretty bad reputation abroad from all the 419 scam emails, tales of militants kidnapping in the Niger Delta and pictures of fighting between Christians and Muslims in the north. We need to tell Nigeria like it is, the bad and especially the good.

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Compared to the previous two democratic elections, Nigerians came out in massive numbers Saturday to press their thumb print on the paper ballot and vote for the next president of Africa’s most populated country.

Even though the number of votes reported for Saturday are small percentages of the total number of registered voters in some states, voters at the polling places are saying the turnout is much bigger than previous years. People I spoke with at the different polling places inside University of Ibadan said they didn’t even vote in the 2007 or 2003 election because of the rampant rigging.

The smooth, peaceful operation of the National Assembly vote last Saturday, April 9th was a message to people that this year, the election process would be different–every vote would actually count. Students and adults inside UI made sure their votes counted by watching the INEC officials count each and every vote in the ballot box out loud. Many recorded everything on their camera phones.

The mood at every polling place was almost unanimously in support for the incumbent presidential candidate, Goodluck Jonathan. The official numbers are not completely in yet, but we should know by Monday who Nigeria’s next president will be. Nigerian politics (of the past) is overwhelmingly party politics and not about the candidate, but on Saturday people voted for Jonathan and not his political party PDP. Everywhere I went I heard people talking about Goodluck. “I need Goodluck for my country.” “We all want Goodluck.” I only heard people saying PDP while the INEC officials counted the PDP votes at each polling place. (Remember, on the ballot you put a thumb print next to the party, candidates names are not present.)

Everyone in Oyo state, the state I live in, is highly anticipating the upcoming gubernatorial election on April 26. It will be a true testament to Nigeria’s departure from party politics when we see if the PDP candidate, incumbent Alao Akala retakes the throne.

I am currently uploading a video about Saturday’s presidential election but with the slow pace of the internet, I am not able to upload it today. Look forward to it ASAP.

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The Obafemi Awolowo Hall polling place.

April 9th, the first day of Nigeria’s national elections that I observed at different polling places inside the University of Ibadan was an exercise in the purest, most proactive display of democracy I have ever witnessed. Nigerians lingered peacefully at polling places from early morning until late afternoon carefully monitoring the Independent National Election Commission officers’ every move for any signs of mistakes or rigging. The desire to guarantee that this is election fair and credible was palpable on campus Saturday.

“It doesn’t really matter who wins,” Ifeanyi, a post-graduate student in geography at UI said about the election for Senate and House of Representatives. “What matters is that the election is credible so if something goes wrong the only people we can blame are ourselves.”

Almost through with accreditation at the Awo polling place. The people on the ledge are waiting for the vote to start at noon.

After voting, Ifeanyi and his colleagues stood under the bus-stop-turned-polling place at Obafemi Awolowo Hall or “Awo” in UI–the largest dormitory in all of West Africa– waiting for the INEC officials (college graduates working for Nigerian government for their year of mandatory government service) to count the votes out loud.

Say no to election rigging

At Awo, around forty people huddled around a small table, all eyes transfixed on the stack of long paper ballots as the official counted each one, one to 202.

Down the road at Queen Idia Hall, a girls’ dormitory, observers stood and sat at the edge of an invisible makeshift barrier, five-feet away from the clear plastic ballot boxes as the lady

About 50 people stood by waiting to monitor the vote count and hear the results.

officiating held each of the 216 votes in the air, enunciating each increasing number clearly. Boys at Independence Hall hung over the balconies, stood on ledges, ran up and down halls with brooms in the air, cheering and yelling as the INEC official counted the senate votes for their favored political parties.

Everyone who made the choice to stand for the hour or so it took to manually count the votes did so for the prospect of a fair and credible election.

This is Nigeria’s third democratic election since the end of Sani Abacha’s military rule in 1999 and people are determined to make it the most transparent. In the previous two elections, voting officials at each polling place carried the ballot boxes away to local headquarters to count the votes. Later, they would announce a number that was almost always surely altered. The votes would inflate or deflate somehow to guarantee the candidates favored by people in power ascended. Other times, politically aligned thugs stormed polling places to steal ballot boxes full of votes. Politicians even paid people to vote for or against a certain candidate multiple times.

The all boys Independence Hostel. They cheered and yelled as INEC officials counted the votes Saturday.

On April 9th, the process looked different.

After the polls closed in UI, officials counted every vote in the box right in front of the people while security guards and police stood guard. Newspapers reported that police shot six thugs who tried to steal ballot boxes in Delta State Saturday.

To make it impossible for one person to vote multiple times all voters have to be accredited on the day of voting. Voters line up from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. to receive an indelible marker mark on their left hand nails that shows they have been accredited. Voting starts at noon and only accredited people can vote. After you vote, officials draw another indelible ink mark on your right hand nails.

“If they do the same thing they are doing [at the Obafemi Awolowo Hall polling place] throughout the country, then we will be very happy,” Abeni, a female teacher and doctor living in UI said in Yoruba.

Dark blue marker on the right hand thumb nail indicates she voted in the first election. The left hand means she is accredited.

April 9th’s election is the most fair she’s seen so far, “except for June 12th,” she said.

June 12th, 1993 is a date engrained in Nigeria’s memory as the country’s most fair and credible presidential election that resulted in one of the biggest disappointments in its history. The most popular candidate, M.K.O. Abiola, won and in an act of power, the military dictator of the time, Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election and paved the way for six more years of harsh military rule.

Many Nigerians are doing everything they can to see that this year’s election is the start of a new chapter, a true democracy.

Peaceful but poor turnout

Signs of a peaceful voting process were evident all over the UI campus Saturday. Walking along the leafy empty streets where few cars or okadas passed and the only sounds were the shrill squawk of birds sharply contrasted the chatter and excitement at each polling place.

The President of UI’s Students’ Union, Tokunbo Salako, better known as T-Cool, visited each of the eight polling places within UI Saturday and reported fewer students than expected at the polls. He noted multiple reasons for the low number of accredited people compared to the high number of people registered.

“Students don’t know who they want to vote for,” T-Cool said in Yoruba. “Or they have no patience to wait to be accredited. Some students also think they aren’t serious because they pushed the election forward.”

At Awolowo Hall, 1,421 people registered to vote and only 244 actually accredited.

T-Cool says he thinks the number of voters will increase with the presidential and gubernatorial elections coming up on April 16, and April 26 respectively. Candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives races are not as well known to students so they did not get out to the polls en masse, he said.

Counting and separating the ballots into those for senate and house of representatives at Awo..

Voting for Saturday’s election was more about the political parties than the candidates. The ballots listed the 10 political parties in a vertical line and voters put a thumb print next to their party choice, not a single candidates name appeared on either the house or senate ballot.

Omolara, a fourth year undergraduate studying Communications Language Arts held a megaphone in her hand as she stood behind the crowd of students listening to the vote count at Idia Hall. She walked around her hall that morning encouraging students to vote. “Ibo e, eto e ni, (your vote is your right)” she announced through the megaphone.

Back at Awo Hall, Ifeanyi saw the election process out from start to finish around 4 p.m. to see that “we get it right.”

“Barack Obama said Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men,” he said. “This is the only way we can have a stronger institution. If what we are witnessing here should spread throughout the country, then I think we are on our way.”

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Well, whoever commented and told me not to be surprised, that I hadn’t seen anything yet after the first election postponement was correct. After hours of meetings between the 63 (Sixty three!! is that a joke?) political parties in Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission decided to set the National Assembly elections back another week, making it April 9th.

INEC, under the leadership of Chairman Attahiru Jega, also moved the presidential elections back to Saturday April 16 from the originally scheduled April 9th and the gubernatorial to Tuesday April 26.

This is a prime example of Nigeria happening. A plan for executing the election was in place. Millions of people had registered successfully months ago, then on the day of the big event Nigeria happened and the dashed everyone’s hopes. Everyone I’ve talked to is disappointed in Jega and the failure of a election that had so many hopes behind it. People are praying it all goes smoothly from here.

Some political parties, out of the whopping 63, are asking Jega to resign from his position to save Nigeria from more international embarrasment. Other parties are saluting Jega for giving the commission more time to organize fair and successful elections and restore the nation’s faith in the electoral process. Quite opposing views.

On campus, students were a flutter of frustration and criticism of Jega and the problems that led to cancellation and postponement. Overall though, people are very hopeful that the three days of elections will go peacefully and according to schedule. When things like this happen, all Nigerians have left is prayer. Let’s hope God answers them.

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As Nigerians say, “they tried.” The third nationwide vote in Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999 almost started successfully today. Due to an unfortunate logistical mishap of ballot materials, specifically result sheets, the elections for National Assembly have been postponed until Monday, April 4th. I heard the news this morning via Twitter (it really is an amazing news medium) that the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) cancelled the vote and was currently holding a press conference about it. I rushed to the TV to watch the chairman, Attahiru Jega apologize to millions of Nigerians who had been standing in line since early morning hoping to cast their votes only to find out it is postponed.

Apparently, planes that brought paper ballots and results sheets into Nigeria from four different countries-including Japan-were delayed and did not land in Lagos until late Friday night, giving INEC officials little time to disperse them to the polling places throughout Nigeria. Some cities, especially those with smaller populations, received materials and successfully carried out the voting process. Since Jega cancelled today’s election, those citizens who were able to vote this morning will have to return to the polling places Monday morning to do it again. No movement on Monday means another national holiday is likely, giving Nigerians a four-day weekend. We’ll see how it goes.

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Today, April 2nd, 2011, is the first of three consecutive Saturdays of the national election. Today, millions of Nigerians will go to their polling places, wait for obscene amounts of time to elect members of the National Assembly. Nigerians will elect 90 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives today, choosing candidates from over 50 political parties.

Next Saturday, April 9th is the presidential election, followed by the elections for state governor on April 16.

The buzz word for the next three weeks is “no movement.” Everybody is planning to stay at home on Saturdays, and not move around outside too much because political groups are prone to fighting in the streets and we innocent citizens do not want to be caught in the cross-fire. So for the next three Saturdays I will not be leaving University of Ibadan campus. I will be going around to the UI polling places for the next three Saturday’s to do my own investigation and add insight to the mix.

To put it out in the open, no, I am not voting because I am not Nigerian. You would be surprised at the number of people who ask me that.

234Next, one of Nigeria’s independent newspapers is doing minute by minute coverage of the vote. I am watching it attentively.

Now I am off to the field to find out just what is going on. Follow me on Twitter @TitiOyinbo to see what I uncover.

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