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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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