Showing a “commendable determination to register their vote and choose their leaders,” Nigerians by the hundreds of thousands lined up at polling stations across the country to select the next president and National Assembly of their country, U.S. and British witnesses to the hotly-contested presidential polls observed.
In a joint statement by the British Foreign Secretary and the U.S. Secretary of State, the observer governments “welcomed the largely peaceful vote on March 28.” Yet they expressed concern that the collation process – where the votes are finally counted – could be subject to deliberate political interference in violation of the Abuja Accord.
Challenges to the massive vote and ballot collection led to a holdover for a second day as the new voter cards failed, sensitive materials were snatched, election officials were held captive, and protestors were teargassed. Thousands of ballots were rejected and some polling stations were closed without notice including in major cities such as Lagos.
Even before preliminary tallies were recorded, the opposition APC rejected the process in Rivers state and denounced the vote there as “a sham and a charade”.
A similar complaint came from Gov. Rochas Okorocha of Imo State who complained of soldiers harassing voters, shootings, ballot boxes mishandled, and the arrest of his senior special advisor. “This is the worst act of militarization of democracy,” the governor said.
The new imported biometric machines “largely failed to read voter cards,” commented Kayode Idowu, spokesman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Even the President was affected as three machines failed to recognize the fingerprints of President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife.
Unlike in previous years, social media was around and captured many of the conflict images which were quickly uploaded on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This moved Daniel M. Bijimi to call out on Twitter: “Everyone with an internet enabling phone is now a journalist in #NigeriaDecides and #Nigeria2015!”
Among the citizen photos were two from Rivers state where women are seen in clouds of teargas as they struggled to reach the office of INEC to demand suspension of the electoral commissioner who they claimed was rigging the election for President Jonathan.
In southern Akwa Ibom state, citizen journalists captured the governorship candidate from the opposition displaying sheets of ballots discarded allegedly by rogue staff of INEC and officials of the ruling PDP.
The number of rejected ballots around the country was disturbingly high. Nassarawa, in the nation’s center, registered 10,094 rejected ballots – enough to put either the candidates way over the top.
The major contenders – President Jonathan of PDP, seeking re-election, and Muhammadu Buhari of APC, an ex-military man seeking a return to power – were running neck and neck in the final days before the polls. Unofficial results announced on local TV gave a small edge to Buhari but as of Monday morning only 8 states were officially called by INEC.
In addition to the PDP and APC, 13 other parties were vying for the nation’s top job in polls across 36 states and 68 million registered voters.
Among those commenting on the polls was Nigeria’s foremost man of letters, Wole Soyinka, who lamented: “This has been one of the most vicious, unprincipled, vulgar and violent election exercises I have ever witnessed…I just hope we won’t go down as being the incorrigible giant of Africa.”
Brooklyn College Prof. Mojubaolu Okome wrote: “Very proud of my 9ja ppl (naija people). But the political class nko? Still too many scoundrels running around. My ppl., remember, democracy isn’t a spectator sport. Defending your vote doesn’t stop on Election Day. After INEC declares winner, you must ensure that your electeds take Tahoe wax out if their ears and listen to the voice of the majority, not those of the moneyed few who have helped to almost wreck our fledgling democracy.”
Among the hopeful tweets was this from MistaAlinco: “If either GOODLUCK JONATHAN or BUHARI wins. I’ll still wake up in the greatest country in AFRICA tomorrow.”