Now that votes are in, the dangerous part of Nigeria’s election has begun

The fallout over Nigeria’s elections continue.
The fallout over Nigeria’s elections continue.
Image: AP Photo/Kunle Ogunfuyi
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After waiting in long lines around the country over the past two days to vote, Nigerians are engaged in another long wait—to find out who will lead their country for the next four years. Both incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan and challenger retired general Muhammadu Buhari claim early leads.

Collating of tens of millions of votes from around the country will officially start on Monday at 12pm local time, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The wait, of more than 48 hours after voting began, is causing tensions to rise. Voters in some areas of the country are worried that what has been a remarkably transparent process on the ground could be vulnerable to vote tampering at the national level. Unofficial results from some of the 120,000 polling units around the country have been posted on social media by polling volunteers keen on maintaining a transparent process. INEC now believes it will be able to announce the presidential results by Tuesday.

Agents from both Jonathan’s People Democratic Party (PDP) and Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) claim early leads in what was always expected to be an extremely close election. APC is believed to have had a strong showing in Nigeria’s southwest region, which includes Lagos State, the most-populated of the country’s 36 states. In 2011 Jonathan won all of the southwest states except Osun.

Yet the PDP’s campaign publicity chief said on Sunday the president’s party was ahead in 23 states, with 64% of the vote.

INEC chairman Attahiru Jega, who has been under intense scrutiny, was quick to dismiss any announced results without his group’s imprimatur.

“I think you should be careful of such information from people that are partisan.Only INEC can declare winners,” Jega said in a Premium Times report.

Ultimately, the sooner results are announced, and Nigerians convinced the elections were fair and free, the better the chances the country has of avoiding violence and disruption.

The elections have so far been widely lauded as a success by both Nigerian and international observers including the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon. Yet, the most dangerous period in Nigeria’s electoral process is right after results are announced. In 2011 more than 800 people were killed in post-election violence.

Millions of people waited patiently to cast their votes for hours due to delays caused by various technical issues. Most notable were difficulties with a new personal voter card reader technology, which prompted the embarrassing spectacle of president Jonathan being unable to vote initially on Saturday morning. INEC’s Jega acknowledged the hitches on national television.

There were also security issues. Boko Haram launched attacks in the north, in Bauchi and Gombe states. But not that did not stop voters from coming out in large numbers, even in towns that have recently been under threat from or control of Boko Haram.