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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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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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It was a casual affair. More men and women in beige Euro-American attire than resplendent African fabrics. We arrived a bit late at 10:15 p.m. but managed to find a seat in the front most pew. Excellent, I thought as I made my way past hundreds of black faces in the pews, more people to see me in my native Yoruba outfit (iro, buba and gele). I was the only white person out of around 400 in chapel that last night of 2010 and for one of the first times since I’ve been here, I was not a center of attention. Not even the Yoruba-speaking Oyinbo could distract the ardent New Years Eve churchgoers from their prayer marathon.

For me, the church service that spanned from the last hours of 2010 to the early morning of 2011 was exhausting. It is remarkable how long and with how much vigor Nigerians can pray. It is a full body prayer, not just a bow of the head with closed eyes. Hundreds of hands are flying, lips moving, torsos gyrating. At the seven or so different times the Pastor invited the congregation to pray, a humming noise emanated from the pews and mixed with the whistle of the oscillating fans positioned every few feet. Mildly taking part in the prayer (I have a brand new baby niece at home to pray for) but mostly observing it tired me out. Without a Power Horse or Red Bull I don’t know how everyone was then able to dance for an hour straight for the thanksgiving. During this time, the entire congregation dances down the aisle pew by pew to give a money offering to the church foundation. The church band belts out songs about thanking God, Oluwa wa while the band pounds away on their instruments creating an offensively loud noise magnified from the blown-out speakers. Young men are the most amusing to watch because they come up with the most outrageous moves and even come around twice to extend their 5 minutes of fame. For one full hour I danced next to my Mom and little sister in my pew, alternating between laughing at the dancers and leaning against the pew for a dance break.

I’d say the whole experience beat popping bottles of Champagne while watching the ball drop. I reflected heavily on 2010–all my achievements, areas of growth in my life, good and sad memories. I also came up with what I think is a perfect goal for 2011, a year where I am expecting great transition as I come home from Nigeria and finish college. My goal–or resolution if you will–is to write something down in a journal every day of the year. So again, happy fourth day of the new year. If any of you, dear readers, made any resolutions, I hope they are still in tact. Mine sure is.

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