Reporter’s Notebook: Election Day in Nigeria
Onize Ohikere observes long lines, scattered conflicts, and hope at the polls
ABUJA, Nigeria—At 9 a.m. on Saturday, before the sun’s heat turned scorching, more than 160 voters had already turned up at my polling unit in a residential part of the city’s Kabusa District. A single canopy shielded white chairs in the middle of open land that houses makeshift stores on regular days.
I joined other voters to pen down my name in a small notebook. Electoral officials would later use the list to coordinate the voting process. As we waited, news started to trickle in of other stations already voting. Others complained of delays. Some voters went home to return later. More than one hour later, scattered applause and cheers broke out when electoral officials arrived in a taxi with the ballot boxes, voting materials, and a police escort.
The officials got to work, setting up the voting station and taping sheets of paper with a list of all the accredited voters onto the doors of a closed store.
Millions of voters here and elsewhere chose from 18 presidential candidates. The top three contenders included Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the candidate from outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari’s party. The 70-year-old Tinubu is known as a political kingmaker in the southwestern part of the country. During his campaign, he used the phrase Emi Lokan, or “It’s my turn,” to signal his interest in finally taking the top office.
One-time vice president Atiku Abubakar, 76, was the main opposition candidate, while 61-year-old Peter Obi—a Christian and former state governor—posed a historic third-party challenge.
The voting process starts with a Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), which uses either a facial capture or fingerprint to verify each voter. Next, officials cross-check the voters’ cards before handing out three slips for the presidential, Senate, and House of Representatives ballots. Voters then take the papers to an open booth in a corner and use ink to place a thumbprint next to their selected parties before folding the ballots into three different boxes.
Electoral officials brought only one BVAS system for more than 500 voters at my polling station. They called out people in tens to queue up and vote. Other stations also complained of a single or malfunctioning accreditation system, which slowed the process.
As the line slowly crept forward, some people passed out bottles of water. Others sat under the shade of closed stores and watched streaming videos on their cellphones of unrest at other polling units. At one station in Lagos state, voters scattered and ran for cover when gunmen opened fire and snatched the presidential ballot box. In another part of the state, voters shared videos of polling agents forcing people to cast ballots for the ruling party or return home. The state police command said it was investigating the reports.
Young, first-time voters also huddled together while waiting. They made up the support base for Obi, calling themselves “Obi-dients,” after the candidate’s name. Despite his past involvement in traditional political parties, Obi’s cost-cutting reputation and record of shunning affluence appeals to young voters. At the polling station, one young voter waved at another and asked if he knew whether a mutual friend planned to vote. Another group talked excitedly about their hope for change and broke into a popular Nigerian song about miracles.
Temi Adebayo, 23, said she registered to vote and showed up because she wants a better education system. Universities in Nigeria face multiple strikes. She also complained about corruption and a lack of social amenities. “The suffering is too much,” she said. “We need change in this country.”
Weeks before the vote, Nigeria dived into a cash crisis after the Central Bank redesigned three currency notes. Authorities said the move could curb vote-buying, but it also ignited long queues at ATMs. “The cost of living is getting too much,” 22-year-old Philip Okafor told me at the polling unit.
A few hundred determined voters still remained at the station even as an unexpected thunderstorm began in the evening. Some stayed behind until after 11 p.m. to watch electoral officials count the votes. In another nearby district, people waited until past 1 a.m. to vote. Officials extended the voting process to Sunday for some locations that faced disruptions.
The commission is expected to announce the final result in the coming days.
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