Nigerians came out in big numbers on March 28, 2015, to participate in a tightly contested general election that was pushed back by six weeks because of security concerns in areas held by militant group Boko Haram.
The election commission extended voting into Sunday, March 29, 2015, due to technical problems in some parts of the country.
The main contenders for the presidential seat are incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and opposition candidate retired General Muhammadu Buhari.
Japhet Omujuwa summarized the first voting day on Naij website, noting that there were “all the usual issues that go with elections in Nigeria”:
It is 2015 ,but you’d have thought the [Independent National Election Commission] had just six weeks to prepare for this election and not four years. The logistics was generally a mess. The INEC officials mostly arrived late to their polling units. And where they arrived early, there were too many cases of the INEC officials who didn’t even know that they had to remove the seal of the card reader to have it working. We were made to believe all of these people were specifically trained for this purpose.
In Rivers state, it was a total mess. This state was marked as a possible spot for violence, and it did live up to that expectation; but no one could imagine that some 60% of election report sheets would be missing.
Oluwatobi A. Oluwatola, a Nigerian policy analyst, argued that the main issues for this election were security and the economy, which is experiencing a “strain from the drop in crude oil prices that has led to a devaluation of its currency”:
Violence in the northeast region of Nigeria, occasioned by the extremist religious sect Boko Haram — a name that literally translates to “Western education is forbidden” — has claimed over 13,000 lives since 2009 and displaced millions. Hundreds of others, including children, have been kidnapped. Against this backdrop, the elections initially scheduled to be held Feb. 14 were postponed six weeks to enable the military to gain ground against the insurgents — a move that was highly criticized by the opposition and many independent bodies as a desperate act by the incumbent Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, as he attempts to avoid losing at the polls.
Beyond Boko Haram, Nigeria faces severe economic strain from the drop in crude oil prices that has led to a devaluation of its currency by as much as 20 percent since September. The president's critics, including Charles Soludo, a noted economist and former governor of the Central Bank, have accused the Jonathan administration of extreme mismanagement of the economy. In a recent article, Soludo gave the president an “F” for his efforts on the economy, saying that poverty and unemployment have grown to unprecedented levels despite the oil boom; the poverty rate is 71 percent and the unemployment rate is 24 percent.
The blog Africa is a Country's new free e-book titled “Nigeria: What is to be done?” offered some context for the election:
Since Nigeria returned to civil rule in May 1999, every election has been labeled by scholars and general observers as the most pivotal and most momentous in the country’s history. Yet, irrespective of their outcomes, the country has hobbled along, poised, all too familiarly, between the potentiality of glory and the probability of disaster. Nigeria has not exactly flourished, but it has not disintegrated either, even if Boko Haram, with its sworn determination to impose a semblance of a Paleolithic political order, has bitten off a not insignificant chunk of territory. Whatever it is then that throws the commentariat into regular panic every four years, it is most certainly not just a fear of possible physical collapse, but something definitely deeper. It is, one suspects, a philosophical regret that, perhaps with every electoral cycle that produces the ‘wrong’ victor, the country drifts further away from the possibility of genuine political renaissance.
True to form, the March 28 presidential election is being billed as a make-or-break affair, the last opportunity for Nigerians to liberate their country from the clutches of those who have held it to ransom for fifty odd years and some, and who continue to milk it for the exclusive gratification of a small elite. It is a tantalizing prospect, when you think of it—get this one election right, and all else shall be added unto you. Except that when you are dealing with a country so complex and troubled, and so marinated in its own contradictions like Nigeria, it is going to require more than a single election—or elections in toto for that matter—to have a shot at getting things right.
Naij.com author Ameto Akpe offered some insight into the hopes and fears of Nigerians abroad:
Though I am far from my native country at the moment, I recall 1999 with vivid clarity the sights, sounds, smell and feeling of standing in line to cast a vote as Nigeria transitioned from military to democratic rule. Since then I have monitored and written about elections as a reporter.
Intensely aware of the potential volatility surrounding the elections, I, like many other fellow Nigerians in the diaspora, have spent the build-up to the elections in fear. All conversations seem to narrow down to the possibility of violence and concerns over the safety of loved ones back home.
Yesterday in London, ‘pre-election day’ night-vigils organized by Nigerian-born pastors were held till the break of dawn. Hours of loud supplication to God for peace and ‘no bloodshed’
One of the main concerns in this election has been violence. Although there have been instances of killings to derail the election in different parts of the country, some Twitter users have taken issue with international media reports of violence:
— #Kiki (@kiki_mordi) March 29, 2015
Christian Djazz advised international news outlets to “take it easy”:
Dear journalists eager to count dead bodies, We get it. Violence is sexy for international news. Just take it easy. Hugs. #Nigeriadecides
— Christian Djazz (@Iamdjazz) March 29, 2015
Karen Attiah described a “humbling” perspective on the election:
Nothing more humbling to this Ghanaian-American than folks made homeless by Boko Haram lining up to vote. How much we take for granted in US
— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) March 28, 2015
Residents of Adamawa state who were displaced by Boko Haram in 2014 shed tears of joy after they were reunited with family members while lining up to vote at special polling units.
At some point during the day, the website of the election commission was reportedly hacked:
— James Schneider (@schneiderhome) March 28, 2015
One voter said asked why he should have voted for the current government:
— Musturpher Kenny (@MustyK007) March 28, 2015
On a positive note, civic engagement and political awareness seem to be on the rise in the country, as pointed out by Oloyede and Asiya Rodrigo:
— Oloyede (@mathewoyebanji) March 29, 2015
The best thing in the fierceness of this contest is the active involvement & increasing awareness of the ordinary Nigerian. #NigeriaDecides
— Asiya Rodrigo (@AsiyaRodrigo) March 29, 2015