In Nige­rian Vote, Chaos and Fraud

Ob­servers Eas­ily De­tect Abun­dant Ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties

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

RUMUJI, Nige­ria, April 21 — he young men were gath­ered in a hud­dle, a stack of bal­lot pa­pers on a ta­ble, a clear plas­tic bal­lot box at their feet. One pressed his inky thumb onto the bal­lots, one af­ter the other, as an­other man stuffed them into the box.

The scene, at a half-built con­crete build­ing in this town out­side the oil cap­i­tal of Port Harcourt, was just one of many ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties eas­ily vis­i­ble in Nige­ria’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Satur­day. A vote that out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo pre­dicted would be a his­toric step for­ward for this eight-year-old democ­racy was in­stead chaotic, vi­o­lent and, by many ac­counts, bla­tantly rigged.

Through­out this area of dirt roads and tow­er­ing palm trees, elec­tion of­fi­cials closed polling sta­tions hours early and an­nounced heavy turnouts. Vans loaded with bal­lot boxes could be seen speed­ing down high­ways by 2:30 p.m. for vot­ing that was sup­posed to run un­til 5 p.m.

One elec­tion of­fi­cial, Good­luck Ohochukwu, boasted that all 241 vot­ers reg­is­tered for his polling sta­tion had cast bal­lots by 3 p.m. As he counted them out — 240 seem­ingly le­git­i­mate bal­lots, one spoiled — it was clear they were marked over­whelm­ingly for Obasanjo’s Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party. It was a tri­umph, he said, of the area’s un­usu­ally com­mit­ted and in­tel­li­gent vot­ers.

“They just came out and did it,” Ohochukwu said with a smile. “All of them.”

But hu­man rights ac­tivists, jour­nal­ists and other in­de­pen­dent ob­servers re­ported a turnout so lethar­gic that it amounted to a vir­tual boy­cott by op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers. This was es­pe­cially true in the volatile Niger Delta re­gion, an area no­to­ri­ous for rigged elec­tions and po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence.

The vi­o­lence started Fri­day night, with an at­tack on gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters in Delta state. Po­lice said heav­ily armed mil­i­tants had un­suc­cess­fully at­tempted to kid­nap Good­luck Jonathan, the vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for Obasanjo’s party.

The party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, lit­tle-known north­ern gov­er­nor Umaru Yar’adua, was widely

Tpre­dicted to win be­cause of the ef­fi­ciency of Obasanjo’s po­lit­i­cal ma­chin­ery. Of the 24 other can­di­dates for pres­i­dent, Yar’adua’s most se­ri­ous ri­vals were ex­pected to be Vice Pres­i­dent Atiku Abubakar and for­mer mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Muham­madu Buhari.

Elec­tion morn­ing ar­rived with more bad news: Po­lice an­nounced an at­tempted truck bomb­ing of the na­tional elec­tion com­mis­sion’s head­quar­ters in Abuja, the cap­i­tal. Some­body put a heavy rock on the ac­cel­er­a­tor of a gaso­line truck loaded with ex­plo­sives, po­lice said. The truck crashed into a pole long be­fore reach­ing the build­ing and failed to det­o­nate.

“If it had suc­ceeded, this elec­tion would have been se­ri­ously marred,” Obasanjo told jour­nal­ists as he voted in his home town of Abeokuta, in south­west­ern Nige­ria, the Reuters news agency re­ported.

Many Nige­ri­ans said the vote was marred any­way. Ob­servers de­tailed nu­mer­ous prob­lems: Some saw bal­lot boxes stuffed or stolen. Polling sta­tions opened hours late, closed hours early, or both. Se­ri­ous de­lays in de­liv­er­ing bal­lots forced the post­pone­ment of leg­isla­tive elec­tions across the coun­try.

And the pres­i­den­tial bal­lots lacked the names of the can­di­dates — they showed only the ini­tials of par­ties and lo­gos — and also se­rial num­bers that, in most democ­ra­cies, are cru­cial to pre­vent­ing fraud by al­low­ing the easy track­ing of bal­lots.

Last Satur­day, at the Ok­wukwo-Etere polling sta­tion near here, vot­ers lined up at 8 a.m. for gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions, only to wait un­til af­ter 1 p.m. for the vot­ing to be­gin. On this Satur­day, most sim­ply did not show up.

“Peo­ple have now lost in­ter­est,” said Steven Og­bonna, 37, a pas­tor who sup­ports a small op­po­si­tion party that he said had no chance to over­come rig­ging by the rul­ing party. “They should go and an­nounce what­ever they feel like an­nounc­ing.”

For hours, vot­ers would saunter up ev­ery 20 min­utes or so to cast bal­lots in the open, with­out a hint of pri­vacy. The two elec­tion of­fi­cials would help them find the line for Obasanjo’s Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party, some­times gen­tly di­rect­ing their thumbs to its ini­tials and sym­bol.

Wor­lunwo Iwedi, 72, who used a cane to walk to the vot­ing ta­ble, told the polling of­fi­cials that he wanted to cast a bal­lot for the PDP can­di­date for House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. They obliged by guid­ing his hand to the party’s ini­tial and sym­bol — an um­brella — and plac­ing his thumbprint be­side it. Then they guided his hand to the pres­i­den­tial bal­lot as well, giv­ing a vote to Yar’adua.

“I wouldn’t have voted for him,” Iwedi said in an in­ter­view mo­ments later. “I would have voted for Atiku” Abubakar.

By 2 p.m., af­ter about 30 of the more than 200 vot­ers reg­is­tered at the polling sta­tion had cast bal­lots, two dozen young men gath­ered out­side. Soon af­ter, Og­bonna said, he watched elec­tion of­fi­cials put their own thumbprints be­side the PDP sym­bol on all the re­main­ing bal­lots. “They are now vot­ing by them­selves, the of­fi­cers,” Og­bonna said by phone. An hour later, the sta­tion was closed.

Not far away, in Ag­wara vil­lage, an­other polling of­fi­cial counted his re­sults nearly two hours be­fore vot­ing was sup­posed to end.

“It’s done,” said Osita Mad­umwagwu, 24, the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer. “Yes, it was sup­posed to go un­til 5, but we’re al­ready fin­ished.” There were 600 reg­is­tered vot­ers but only 500 bal­lots, all of which had been used al­ready, he said.

To tab­u­late the re­sults, he stacked on a ta­ble bal­lots cast for each can­di­date. There were three or four bal­lots each for Abubakar, Buhari and some oth­ers. To hold the stacks down in the af­ter­noon breeze, Mad­umwagwu put a small stone on each.

But for the rul­ing party, the stack quickly grew high as an as­sis­tant pulled fist­ful af­ter fist­ful of bal­lots out of the box. Mad­umwagwu found an­other stone on the ground, one about four times the size of the oth­ers, and placed it atop the pile.

BY GE­ORGE OSODI — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vot­ers in Katsina wait to cast bal­lots. Ob­servers re­ported that turnout, es­pe­cially in the Niger Delta, amounted to a vir­tual boy­cott by op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers.

BY RADU SIGHETI — REUTERS

Po­lice es­cort rul­ing party pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Umaru Yar’adua, who was widely ex­pected to win.

BY GE­ORGE OSODI — BLOOMBERG NEWS

A Nige­rian wo­man shows her voter card be­fore cast­ing a bal­lot. In some places, polls closed hours ear­lier than sched­uled.

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