Delays, threats, attacks fail to deter Nigerian voters

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Residents check their names against the voters roll in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria. (AFP)
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International and local electoral observers arrive to attend briefing by the chairman of the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) about preparations for the rescheduled general elections in Abuja, on February 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 23 February 2019

Delays, threats, attacks fail to deter Nigerian voters

  • 233 people were killed in 67 incidents of election-related violence from last October to Friday — an average of two people per day
  • Boko Haram has warned it will disrupt the elections

LAGOS: From first-time voters and the displaced to the elderly and infirm, Nigerians on Saturday defied delays, intimidation and violence to cast their ballots.

The presidential and parliamentary elections are the sixth since the return of civilian rule in 1999 and are seen as another step forward on Nigeria's democratic journey. 

But while focus may be on the two main candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari, and Atiku Abubakar, most voters said regardless of who wins, they just want life to improve. "I came out because I want to vote for a good leader," said 80-year-old Hannatu Audu Kallo, as she voted in Buhari's home town of Daura.

"I don't have much time left on Earth and my concern are my grandchildren... A secure future for my grandchildren is my reason for coming out to vote," she said.

The election was supposed to have taken place last Saturday but was delayed because of difficulties in delivering ballot papers and other election material.

In Lagos, the country's megacity commercial capital in the southwest, there were chaotic scenes as vehicles expected to distribute ballots and staff failed to arrive on time.

Materials were instead stuffed into motorised three-wheeled rickshaws and whisked away to polling units.

Voting was taking place at nearly 177,000 locations across Nigeria, with polling units set up under trees, on open scrubland, in schools and by the roadside.

In Daura, civil servant Musa Abubakar, 45, said the week-long delay was "unfortunate" but he was not discouraged. "It's a sacrifice we have to make for a better Nigeria.

"I don't mind how long it takes me to cast my vote. If it is going to take me the whole day to vote I'll stay until I exercise my civic right and vote for my choice."

In the northeastern city of Maiduguri, dense crowds surrounded polling booths set up in camps for those made homeless by Boko Haram, just hours after another attack.

Warnings have been sounded about vote-buying during the campaign, and there were reports of sporadic violence to coerce people to vote for a particular candidate.

Explosions were heard as voting got under way in the southern city of Port Harcourt, the hub for Nigeria's oil and gas industry.

Police and residents blamed "hoodlums" setting off dynamite to scare voters away from opposition strongholds.

"In this state, we're used to this kind of thing," said local resident Godspower Ekaete. 

Enthusiastic voters had been in line from before dawn.

With traffic banned from the streets during polling, many children took the rare opportunity to play football in the empty streets.

"I want to vote for the candidate that will improve my life," said Jude Nwoke, 19, a first-time voter in Port Harcourt.

For many, improvement means a better economy, with Nigeria limping out of recession and the gulf growing between the haves and have-nots.

Most of the 72.8 million voters are among the latter.

"The stakes are big this year," said Emmanuel Udayi, 34, a businessman in Kaduna.

"The economy is really bad compared to 2015, the unemployment rate is high. We ... want a government enabling equal competition not only favouring the elite."

Mali sacks senior army officers, dissolves militia after massacre

Colonel Gabriel Soubrier (L) from the Barkhane mission in Africa's Sahel region, speaks with Anderamboukane prefect Moussa Diallo (C) and Menaka region governor Daouda Maiga (R) at the military base of Malian Army forces (Fama) in Anderamboukane, Menaka region, on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 40 min 13 sec ago

Mali sacks senior army officers, dissolves militia after massacre

  • At least 136 men, women and children were killed in the attack, according to a “provisional toll,” public television ORTM said late Sunday

BAMAKO: Mali’s government on Sunday announced the sacking of senior military officers and the dissolution of an ethnic militia, a day after the massacre of more than 130 Fulani villagers, including women and children.
Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said new military chiefs would be named, and that the Dan Nan Ambassagou association, composed of Dogon hunters, had been dissolved.
The dissolution of the militia was to send a clear message, Maiga told journalists: “The protection of the population will remain the monopoly of the state.”
Survivors of Saturday’s attack said ethnic Dogon hunters carried out the deadly raid in Ogossagou, a village in central Mali inhabited by the Fulani community.
While local attacks are fueled by accusations of Fulani herders grazing cattle on Dogon land and disputes over access to land and water, the area is also troubled by jihadist influence.
Maiga did not name the senior officers sacked, but defense ministry sources told AFP they were the Armed Forces Chief of General Staff M’Bemba Moussa Keita, and chiefs of the army and the air force.
The prime minister’s announcement came hours after an emergency meeting called by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in response to Saturday’s massacre.
At least 136 men, women and children were killed in the attack, according to a “provisional toll,” public television ORTM said late Sunday.
The television showed images of burned huts and livestock and shell casings in the village.
The victims were shot or hacked to death with machetes, a security source told AFP.
A government delegation led by Justice Minister Tiena Coulibaly went to the site of the massacre Sunday.
They were sent by the president to “tell the people of Ogossagou that what happened here is unacceptable and that it will not go unpunished,” Coulibaly said.

The UN Children’s Fund said “Malian children are paying a heavy price for the intensification of violence.”
“Growing insecurity since 2017 has led to an increase in murders, mutilations and the recruitment of children,” UNICEF said.
For its part, the European Union called for “immediate steps (including) the disarmament and dismantling of all militias” in Mali.
Researcher Baba Dakono of the Bamako-based Institute for Security Studies told AFP the attack was “unprecedented” but “predictable” because of a weak state presence in the region.
It was the deadliest attack since the end of the 2013 French-led military intervention that drove back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali.

The massacre took place as a delegation from the UN Security Council visited the Sahel region to assess the jihadist threat.
“The secretary general is shocked and outraged” by the bloodshed, Antonio Guterres’s spokesman said in a statement late Saturday.
The UN chief called on the Malian authorities “to swiftly investigate it and bring the perpetrators to justice,” the statement added.
Guterres’s spokesman said the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, provided air support to deter further attacks and assisted with the evacuation of the injured.
The attack was launched at dawn on Saturday in the village near the border with Burkina Faso, in a district that has seen frequent inter-communal violence.
Jihadist fighters have also emerged as a threat in central Mali in the past four years. A group led by radical Islamist preacher Amadou Koufa has recruited mainly from the Fulani community.
Since then, there have been repeated clashes between the Fulani and Dogon and last year the violence claimed some 500 civilian lives, according to UN figures.
In January, Dogon hunters were blamed for the killing of 37 people in another Fulani village, Koulogon, in the same region.
The Fulani have repeatedly called for more protection from the authorities. The government in Bamako has denied their accusations that it turns a blind eye to — or even encourages — Dogon attacks on the Fulani.
Once considered a beacon of democracy and stability in Africa, Mali in recent years has been dogged by a coup, civil war and Islamist terrorism.
Extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north in early 2012, but were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
In June 2015, Mali’s government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups, but the jihadists remain active, and large tracts of the country remain lawless,
The violence persists despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, a strong French military contingent and the creation of a five-nation military force in the region.