Delays, threats, attacks fail to deter Nigerian voters

Update Delays, threats, attacks fail to deter Nigerian voters
1 / 3
Update Delays, threats, attacks fail to deter Nigerian voters
2 / 3
Residents check their names against the voters roll in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria. (AFP)
Update Delays, threats, attacks fail to deter Nigerian voters
3 / 3
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

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."