Economist: A SMALL CROWD has gathered around a plastic table by a dusty roadside in the eastern Nigerian town of Yola. As an electoral officer announces that Muhammadu Buhari, the incumbent president, has won the most votes there, his supporters in the crowd erupt, cheering and dancing.

Fans of his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, who cast his ballot at this polling station earlier in the morning, slink away, dejected. “It feels very painful,” says Muhammad Sanusi, one such supporter. “But our candidate will still win.”

Mr Sanusi’s mood has probably not improved. Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announces the results of the election, held on February 23rd, separately for each of Nigeria’s 36 states. It reads out the votes received by each of the 72 candidates, leading to an excruciatingly long wait for the final tally. But with results in from most states, it is clear that Mr Buhari has won a second term.

His victory this time will not generate the same euphoria it did in 2015. The former general, who ruled briefly as the country’s military dictator after a coup in the 1980s, has struggled to fulfil many of the campaign promises he made four years ago. Mr Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) claims the results were rigged. In a sign of growing voter apathy, turnout, which languished at 44% in 2015, has probably slipped below 40% this time.

For many Nigerians, the election has been tarnished by the sloppiness with which it was run. The vote was originally scheduled for February 16th, but the INEC postponed it just hours before it was meant to begin because it had been unable to get materials, such as ballot papers and voter-card readers, to polling stations on time.

When the vote was finally held on February 23rd, observers say most polling stations opened hours late, for the same reason, and that many election officials seemed confused about voting-day procedures. The European Union’s observer mission says that “serious operational shortcomings reduced confidence in the process and put undue burden on voters.”

Voting proceeded peacefully in most parts of the country, but violence broke out in some states. The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a group of NGOs monitoring the vote, estimates that at least 39 people were killed over the weekend, most by thugs who attacked polling stations, stealing ballot boxes and intimidating voters. It is not clear on which party’s behalf they were acting.

Things were especially ugly in Rivers state, in the poor and restless oil-producing Niger delta region, where 16 people were killed. Some fear post-poll clashes, a staple of past Nigerian elections. About 800 people were killed in 2011. This time, to deter such violence, radio stations in Yola played only songs promoting peace on voting day. “No need to fight-o,” one upbeat pop number urges. “Things gotta change by determination; this election no intimidation.”

Vote-buying was more widespread. Mr Buhari’s All Progressives’ Congress (APC) and the PDP were probably both culpable. In a posh neighbourhood of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, one resident says he saw a man on the street handing out cash on voting day. On the eve of the vote, a journalist in Yola said a politician gave his wife sachets of spices to hand out to voters in her village.

Source: economist


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