Nigeria Votes 2011: Opinions From the Polls

This post is part of our special coverage Nigeria Elections 2011.

Nigerians voted yesterday (16 April, 2011) in the third presidential election since the nation transitioned to civilian rule in 1999. Thus far, the election has widely been declared a success, with only sporadic reports of violence and voting irregularities. News sources reported a large turnout, orderly queues, and voters waiting until polls closed to make sure their votes were counted.

As Africa's largest nation and a major international oil supplier, Nigeria stands in the spotlight during election season. Previous elections in 2003 and 2007 were marred by fraud and violence; as a result, high hopes have been placed on this year's polls.

In this video uploaded to YouTube by on April 9, 2011, parliamentary election results are tallied in Oyo State:

Incumbent Goodluck Johnathan, the former vice-president who assumed office after his predecessor's death last year, is perceived as the frontrunner; his closest competition is expected from Mohammadu Buhari, who briefly governed the country during the 1980s. Other challengers are former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu and Kano State governor Ibrahim Shekarau, as well as 16 candidates from smaller parties.

Official results are expected Monday. For more coverage, check out GV's special page on the Nigerian Election.

Report from the polls

At Bella Naija, Chiedu Ifeozo wrote how he changed his mind about voting in Nigeria. He said that although he had voted in “every election that was held while I lived in England,” at home in Nigeria he just “didn't see the point,” because of the prevalent assumption that ‘Nigerian votes do not count’ and ‘the winners have already been decided.’ But, like many young Nigerians, Ifeozo changed his mind and headed to the polls this election season:

Regardless of the cynicism, there has been renewed vigor among the people of my generation regarding the 2011 elections. Various youth coalition groups have gone all out to show that it isn’t only ‘cool’ to vote but have gone as far as giving insight into exactly who was running for the various offices by performing online polls, organizing a debate, and even developing web and mobile applications for easy monitoring of the elections through citizen reports. Through these processes, the candidates became more than just names and faces on campaign posters. They became the possible agents of change my country needed.

He then gave a blow-by-blow account of his experience on voting day:

1.04pm: When it was my turn, my heart was beating a little fast, I can’t lie. We had been educated on how to correctly complete the process for our votes to count, and I didn’t want to make a mistake, certainly not at the last moment. I handed the official my registration card, and he passed it to another official while he searched for my name on the list. When he found it, he put some ink on my right thumb and ushered me to the female NYSC personnel from earlier, who tore out two separate ballot sheets folded them and stamped some information on the back. She then wrote some details as well before handing it over to me and then directed me to the polling booth, a white folded stand with visors on both sides to prevent anyone from seeing me make my choice. I made towards the ballot boxes, one for the senate and the other for the House of Representatives, put my ballot sheets through the slot and I was done. I had voted for the first time, and honestly the first thing that crossed my mind was, “that wasn’t so bad now was it”.

He concluded:

5.15pm: I saw the result of my polling unit on the internet. My lips stretched into a smile….. “this is is the beginning of a new day for my country.”

Nigerian polling agent. Photo courtesy of Damisi Pikuda

In a post titled “A different kind of war,” Salisu Suleiman wrote about how the election season interrupts the business of daily life:

All schools were closed down. No form of teaching or learning took place for the duration. When it was discovered that the private school the president’s children attend did not close down along with others, public outcry forced it to close down also. After the initial two weeks, an extension was sought and granted. So for an entire month, all primary and secondary schools in the whole country were shut. Even in tertiary institutions, not much activity took place.

In that one month period, every Nigerian aged 18 and above was practically drafted to put down their names and fingerprints at various centres. Government said it was a civic duty. Preachers harangued citizens on the need to perform this divinely inspired responsibility. Parties tried every trick known and unknown to get people to these centres. Civil society groups made sure they were not left out and they shouted loudly on the need for citizens to participate in the noble exercise. Public holidays were declared in several states to ensure that the details of all eligible citizens were captured. Sophisticated digital equipment, worth over USD 500 million, were imported. At the end of one month of frantic activity, including a week’s extension, over 73 million gallant Nigerians had voluntarily participated in the noble cause.

Imnakoya expressed a cautious optimism shared by many in the blogosphere:

People came out to vote, voted, and even waited for the votes to be counted, without being intimidated by gun-trotting hoodlums, as was the case 2007. This appears to be the case across most South-western region of the country. This is a significant shift from the last election.

Writing at NigeriansTalk, Kunle Durojaiye agreed:

One cannot deny that there is a sense of a wind of change. People voted, and waited behind to witness the counting and collation of votes; media stations ran a live coverage of the elections while it lasted, and very importantly, young people influenced the exercise with the flood of information available via twitter, facebook and blackberry messaging. Without mincing words, change is inevitable, but one just wonders if the stage is truly set.

Read election day diary by Global Voices author, Nwachukwu Egbunike, which describes his day at the Polling Unit in Agbowo, Ibadan, Oyo State.

The Nigerian parliamentary election was held last Saturday, April 9. The presidential poll was held yesterday, April 16. The vote for state governors is scheduled for April 26.

This post is part of our special coverage Nigeria Elections 2011.

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