Chaos at Polling Stations, Isolated Attacks Mar Nigeria Vote


President Goodluck Jonathan Supporters
Supporters waving flags walk past a campaign sign to mobilize support for the re-election of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party during a rally in Akure, Ondo State, on March 24. President Goodluck Jonathan wants to win re-election and extend the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s 16-year hold on power. Photographer: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

Nigeria’s presidential and legislative elections got off to a chaotic start as officials arrived late to register voters, equipment malfunctioned and attacks were staged in towns in the north and south.

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Large crowds gathered outside polling stations for several hours on Saturday beyond the 8 a.m. official start of registration waiting for Independent National Electoral Commission staff to arrive and get voter card readers to work. Provisional data showed delays at 31 percent of stations, according to the Situation Room, a coalition of civil-society groups monitoring the election.

“No one here has been accredited because INEC officials didn’t pitch up,” retired petroleum engineer Bassey Itama, 67, said as he waited in the Ajah district of Lagos, the commercial hub. “It’s a disgrace; in four years they couldn’t arrange an election. All INEC officials should be sued.”

The election, which was delayed by six weeks, is the most hotly contested since military rule ended in 1999 in Africa’s most populous nation. It pits President Goodluck Jonathan, 57, and his People’s Democratic Party against a united opposition led by former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, a 72-year-old northern Muslim who’s lost three previous elections.

Both Buhari, who leads the All Progressives Congress, and Jonathan registered in their respective home states of Katsina and Bayelsa. Jonathan said he had difficulties using his biometric voter card.
Economic Strains

“I sympathize with INEC, they wanted to use card readers to make sure the process is credible,” Jonathan said after voting with this wife Patience. “I believe the elections will be free and fair and very credible.”

Voting in some areas where accreditation was delayed may take place on Sunday, INEC spokesman Kayode Idowu said by phone.

In some areas, registration went smoothly and voting began close to the 1:30 p.m. starting time.

“We started voting about 2 p.m.,” builder Ukpai Oden, 35, said by phone from Abia Ohafi in the southeastern state of Abia. “Accreditation went well. Things are normal here.”

The campaign took place against the backdrop of an insurgency by Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, in the north of the country that Human Rights Watch says has killed at least 1,000 civilians this year. The economy is struggling following a plunge in the price of oil, Nigeria’s largest export, and a currency that has weakened almost 18 percent in the past six months, the second-steepest drop among 24 African currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
Boko Haram

“Even more so than the oil price, the elections will be a key determinant of Nigeria’s future growth path,” Razia Khan, head of Africa macroeconomic research at Standard Chartered Plc in London, said by phone on Friday. “Where there are either disruptions to the polls, or an uncertain aftermath, few will be able to pretend that it is business as usual.”

Suspected Boko Haram gunmen killed one policeman and injured one other in an attack in the Nafada local government area in the northern state of Gombe, national police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said by phone.

Residents of several other northern towns also reported attacks they they suspected were mounted by the militant group.

Gunmen killed at least six people in the town of Dukku in Gombe as voters were registering to cast their ballots, residents said.
Gombe Attacked

“I saw six corpses after the insurgents fled the area, and now the voting continues,” Musa Isa, a civil servant, said by phone from the town of Dukku. Fwaje Attajiri, a police spokesman in Gombe, said by phone there had been an attack and that the security forces killed some of the gunmen and were pursuing others.

A primary school in the southeastern town of Awka was rocked by an explosion before the start of voter registration, Ojukwu said. There were no injuries or fatalities and the police were investigating the cause of the blast, he said.

In another incident, a planned attack on a polling station in the southeastern town of Ogui was foiled by officers who intercepted a vehicle carrying explosives, said Ebere Amaraizu, a spokesman for the Enugu state police.

While registration was due to end at 1 p.m. ahead of the actual vote, the deadline would be extended at stations where there had been delays, INEC spokesman Idowu said.

“We know the areas where there are challenges and we’re intervening,” he said. “The rule has always been that anybody in the queue will be accredited whenever that queue ends.”

Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola is aNaija247news' Southwest editor. He's based in Lagos and writes on the Yoruba Nation political issues, news and investigative reports

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