Vot­ing in Nige­ria Marked by Tu­mult

Elec­tions Are Hailed De­spite Ri­ots, Fraud

The Washington Post Sunday - - World News - By Craig Tim­berg

KANO, Nige­ria, April 14 — Bal­lot boxes were re­ported stuffed and stolen, votes bought and sold. A com­bi­na­tion of shoot­ings, ri­ots and fires pushed the death toll to at least 12, po­lice said. But by the end of a chaotic elec­tion day Satur­day, many Nige­ri­ans were hail­ing the na­tion­wide vote as among the most or­derly in their eight-year-old democ­racy.

Some fear that of­fi­cial re­sults, which could come as soon as Sun­day, may spark new trou­ble. But so far, un­rest has re­mained con­cen­trated in the oil-rich Niger Delta and has not ap­proached the lev­els of the elec­tion of 2003. In most polling sta­tions across the coun­try, vot­ing pro­ceeded smoothly, if a bit later than planned.

“Sur­pris­ingly it’s been very peace­ful,” said po­lice spokesman Haz Iwendi, speak­ing from Abuja, the cap­i­tal. “We ex­pected more vi­o­lence.”

At stake was con­trol of the coun­try’s 36 states, as well as the pa­tron­age and graft tra­di­tion­ally avail­able to gov­er­nors and law­mak­ers there. The vote could also pro­vide early in­di­ca­tions about which party is likely to win the pres­i­dency in a sec­ond round of vot­ing next Satur­day. Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo is step­ping down in May af­ter serv­ing the con­sti­tu­tional limit of two fouryear terms.

Top in the minds of many vot­ers were qual­ity-of-life is­sues. De­spite years of surg­ing gov­ern­ment rev­enue in a coun­try that is among the world’s lead­ing oil ex­porters, Nige­ri­ans com­plain that their liv­ing stan­dards have stag­nated, with ris­ing job­less­ness and in­fla­tion and in­creas­ing power out­ages. Many blame cor­rupt politi­cians.

Ba­turiya Yusha’u, who sells soft drinks out of her home in the north­ern com­mer­cial cen­ter of Kano, says she has seen her small busi­ness suf­fer from months with­out elec­tric power.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to sell be­cause there’s no elec­tric­ity,” said Yusha’u, 45, who was sup­port­ing the lead­ing op­po­si­tion party, the All Nige­ria Peo­ple’s Party. “No­body will buy if it’s not cold.”

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of po­lice of­fi­cers and sol­diers vir­tu­ally shut down Nige­ria’s cities, bar­ring all but of­fi­cial traf­fic and in­spect­ing the few ve­hi­cles still on the road. Chil­dren played im­promptu games of soc­cer on the empty streets.

Even with Nige­ria’s epic traf­fic jams gone, lo­gis­ti­cal snags de­layed the open­ing of polling sta­tions across Africa’s most pop­u­lous coun­try, with 140 mil­lion peo­ple and 61 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers.

Vot­ers in one op­po­si­tion strong­hold in Kano grew an­gry when elec­tion ma­te­ri­als still hadn’t ar­rived by 11 a.m., three hours af­ter vot­ing was sup­posed to be­gin. When the clear, soft-side bal­lot box ar­rived — look­ing like some­thing an Amer­i­can fam­ily might load up with tow­els and sun­block for a trip to the beach — gov­ern­ment worker Nasiru Garba, 41, lost his tem­per.

“They brought the bal­lot box with­out the bal­lot pa­per!” Garba said with a mix­ture of frus­tra­tion and amaze­ment. “This is def­i­nitely an ef­fort to sabotage the in­ter­ests of the pub­lic.”

A half-hour later, the bal­lots had ar­rived, but there was no way to mark them. Vot­ers were sup­posed to place a thumb print by the can­di­dates of their choice, but the black ink pads had not ar­rived. Elec­tion of­fi­cials later ex­tended vot­ing by sev­eral hours.

The most se­ri­ous in­ci­dents oc­curred in the trou­bled Niger Delta, where ab­duc­tions, rob­beries and vi­o­lent clashes with po­lice are rou­tine. Mil­i­tants at­tacked two po­lice sta­tions in Port Harcourt, the re­gion’s largest city, hours be­fore dawn, killing seven of­fi­cers.

Also in the delta, a politi­cian’s home was fire­bombed, killing three peo­ple. When bal­lots ar­rived late at one polling sta­tion, youths burned down the lo­cal elec­tion of­fice. There also were spo­radic re­ports of ap­par­ent bal­lot box stuff­ing.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that in one Niger Delta polling sta­tion youths bought and sold bal­lots and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards for about $3 per vote. At an­other polling sta­tion there, a dozen shirt­less men on a bal­cony above the bal­lot boxes shouted down at vot­ers, telling them how to cast their bal­lots.

Be­yond the delta, two politi­cians in the south­ern city of Enugu were killed in a scuf­fle. Na­tion­wide, the num­ber of ar­rests reached into the hun­dreds, with charges in­clud­ing as­sault, ar­son and theft of bal­lot boxes.

At a polling sta­tion in his home state in south­west­ern Nige­ria, Obasanjo told re­porters that over­all, “the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try is very sat­is­fac­tory. . . . So far, so good.”

His elec­tion in 1999 marked the be­gin­ning of Nige­ria’s mod­ern era of democ­racy, fol­low­ing decades of coups, as­sas­si­na­tions and abortive at­tempts at civil­ian gov­ern­ment. A suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion next month would be the first han­dover of power from one elected leader to an­other.

Vy­ing to re­place Obasanjo is his hand­picked can­di­date, Umaru Yar’adua, a reclu­sive north­ern gov­er­nor, and for­mer mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Muham­madu Buhari.

A third can­di­date, Vice Pres­i­dent Atiku Abubakar, is fight­ing a le­gal bat­tle to have his name re­stored to the bal­lot af­ter the elec­toral com­mis­sion barred him from run­ning, cit­ing al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion. Abubakar, who long has been es­tranged from Obasanjo, has ac­cused the pres­i­dent of ma­nip­u­lat­ing the elec­toral com­mis­sion to keep him off the bal­lot.

BY GE­ORGE OSODI — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A voter in the south­ern city of Port Harcourt casts his bal­lot dur­ing state elec­tions across Nige­ria. Vot­ing for pres­i­dent will take place next Satur­day.

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