When honour, pride and dignity return to Nigerian polls…thank you Nigerians


Read the first hand review of Nigeria’s election held on Saturday April 9, 2011. Ruling PDP met its match in people’s decision with a whirlwind of change sweeping through the the nation’s sit of power. Courtesy NEXT

Nigeria in session

After 12 years in charge of the center and most states, the People’s Democratic Party faced the judgement of voters nationwide yesterday as millions of Nigerians flocked to the polls to deliver a verdict on the party that fancies itself as Africa’s largest. From the farthest corners of the land and most of its metropolitan areas, at least 75 percent of registered voters – according to election officials – participated in this most sacred of democracy’s rituals.

For the ruling party, the initial omen was not good. By Saturday evening, results had started trickling in, portending a tricky time for the ruling party. The Congress for Progressive Change had a strong showing in the north while the Action Congress of Nigeria and All Progressive Grand Alliance were leading in parts of the southwest and the southeast.

The CPC appeared on course to win the Federal Capital Territory as well. There were also indications that the speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, and the senator daughter of the former president, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, may have lost their reelection bids to the opposition ACN in Ogun State.

It was unclear whether the senate president, David Mark, had been able to keep his seat. In Kwara, the ACN was leading in the Kwara Central senatorial district, dampening the ambition of the incumbent governor and chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Bukola Saraki.

Osun State’s Iyiola Omisore lost his senatorial seat while the former governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, also lost his senatorial bid.

Nigeria votes

Although the National Assembly election was preceded by major drama, most Nigerians finally got the opportunity to cast their votes without incident yesterday. A bomb blast in Suleja, Niger State, which killed 11 people the previous night, and another blast at a polling unit in Maiduguri, were the two significant incidents in a largely peaceful election. Although the process had begun slowly in most parts of the country, raising fears of low voter turnout, things seemed to perk up soon enough when most people’s fears that the polls would be violent failed to materialise. There were obvious improvements in the activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission which was quick to resolve most issues of missing names in registers and inadequate ballot papers. In Rivers State, however, about 200 people at a polling unit in Oyigbo, who claimed that they were given duplicate voter’s cards during the registration exercise because cards were unavailable, were not allowed to vote. And in Delta State, armed men reportedly snatched ballot papers at a polling unit in Ughelli Local Government.

Three other people who similarly tried to appropriate ballot papers in Yola were not so lucky. John N. Nwoka, a brigadier-general and head of the Army command in the state, said his officers caught a man and two women with 500 ballot papers. He said the culprits would be handed over to the appropriate authority to find out how they got ahold of INEC materials. He warned all those who intended to perpetrate fraud that his officers had mounted security checkpoints in all major entrances to the state capital and along major highways to ensure that corrupt practices did not occur during the polls. When we contacted the state’s resident electoral commissioner, Kassim Gaidam, over the report, he said he was still investigating the matter.

“I need to see the materials before I can ascertain if the confiscated ballot papers are fake or genuine,” he said.

The electoral commission has been quick to call these occurences “isolated incidents” which it claimed would have little impact on the whole exercise. Kayode Idowu, spokesperson of the commission’s chairman, told NEXT that, “It is a successful election generally. The turnout was huge and last week’s postponement did not seem to have any impact on the exercise. We are very positive that next week’s election would be a lot better.”

Large voter turnout

In Gombe State, where the election commenced as early as 8am, the voter turnout was quite impressive. In all the centres visited, including the Akko Local Government Area which is arguably the largest local government in Nigeria with 338 polling units, voters were out and eager to commence the accreditation exercise as early as 8am.

Similkaly, voters were present in large numbers in Adamawa although there were initial hiccups there and many reported complaints of voters not finding their names in the register. One of the polling units at the Yola Club under Gwadabawa Ward did not start accreditation till after 10am because the polling clerk there said they were yet to get the voter’s list for the unit. In Jimeta also, problems arose because people could not find their names on the register. Emmanuel Njaprim, a journalist with the state’s Sunrise newspaper was one of those affected although he later got a call from an electoral commission official telling him his problem had been sorted out.

A large number of people also turned out to vote in Edo State, where an impressed Governor Adams Oshiomhole expressed his satisfaction with the conduct of the polls. Mr. Oshiomhole who voted at the Iyamho Community Primary School, Etsako West Local Government, said, “I am satisfied with the conduct of the elections so far. I recall that in 2007, around this time, the signal all over the place was unfavourable, people shooting guns all over. But today, as you can see from all the calls I have received, it is quiet everywhere. It shows that people are ready to vote; people are enthusiastic and patient.”

Mr. Oshiomhole had arrived at the Ward 10 polling unit at about 10.52am for accreditation and waited patiently until 11:15 when he was accredited.

In Kaduna and Katsina states, voter turnout was also impressive although many underage voters were apprehended. In Kano State, the All Nigeria People’s Party presidential candidate Ibrahim Shekarau cast his vote amid the tight security of the Army, State Security Service and Police who cordoned off the Giginyu polling unit of Nasarawa Local Government of the state. Mr. Shekarau arrived at 12.10pm and departed from the polling unit at about 12.30pm after voting. One man was arrested for shouting, “Bamayi!” meaning “We are not with you!” at the governor.

Mr. Shekarau praised the large turnout of voters, saying that the exercise was going peaceful in an orderly manner.

Peaceful poll

Many politicians commended INEC for the peaceful nature of the election. Troops of military and police officers mounted checkpoints and anyone who was not accredited to participate in the elections was not allowed to vote. “I am impressed by the attitude of the security agencies so far,” said Mr. Oshiomhole. “If they continue to maintain impartiality and neutrality, then there is something to hope for.”

At the INEC office in Auchi, everything went on in an orderly and calm manner. The distribution of materials had started overnight so that they could reach remote villages, said an INEC official. Battle-ready soldiers were seen in all the strategic locations in the town, trying to enforce the order restricting movement.

The election was similarly conducted in a relatively peaceful manner in Lagos State, where there was also a large turnout. In many parts of the Lagos metropolis like FESTAC, Ikorodu, Epe, Badagry, Surulere and Alimosho areas, residents turned out in large numbers to cast their votes. Also in Mushin, Iyana-Ipaja, Ejigbo, Isolo, voting was peaceful. Voters were generally impressed with the availability of election materials and the prompt report of INEC personnel.

Around 12.30pm in wards A, B and C at Iya Agan, Apapa Road on Lagos Mainland, many residents were seen in queues trying to cast their votes. In Ikorodu, officials of INEC arrived at polling units as early as 7.30am but had to attend to fewer people because Ikorodu is one of the federal constituencies where elections were cancelled by INEC due to the difficulty in printing an adequate number of ballot papers. Abike Dabiri who represents the constituency in the House of Representatives however said the earlier postponement of the National Assembly elections “changed nothing”.

In Surulere, there was a large turnout of mostly elderly voters. However, peaceful voting in the Odoshola community of Epe was disrupted by unidentified gunmen who intimidated voters and there were also reported cases of underage voters at Ward J, Odoshola in Epe. These underage voters were, however, not accredited by INEC officials who demanded to see their birth certificates. In Okota, voting was peaceful and calm. Fuji artist Wasiu Ayinde, KWAM 1, cast his vote at a polling station on Okiki Street, off Ago Palace Way.

The Lagos INEC resident electoral commissioner, Adekunle Ogunmola, gave INEC an ‘overall pass mark’ so far in the way the election was conducted across the state. While apologising for the delay at some polling centres, Mr. Ogunmola said that there were “quite a number of problems with regards to the way our personnel understand the job”.

He added that there was improved security across the state. There was a significant presence of anti-bomb squads conducting checks at the premises of INEC. Security was enhanced as everyone coming into the premises was thoroughly searched. Mr. Ogunmola said this was “to forestall the kind of incident that happened in Suleja”.

Some parts of Lagos were however marked by violence as groups of youth attempted to snatch ballot boxes and disrupt citizens from voting. Security agents prevented seven lorry-loads of voters from Lagos from entering Igbonla community in Epe. At Iyana-Ipaja, two commercial buses were intercepted by security agents at a roadblock. Other areas affected included the Oba Palace at Lagos Island where youth allegedly disrupted the elections. They reportedly brandished broken bottles and other dangerous weapons, as voters and INEC officers fled for safety. It was reported that the suspects were taken to Kirikiri. Also at the Iyana-Ipaja bus stop, there were reports that some PDP agents snatched ballot papers.