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September 09, 2010

Nigerian Voters Question Length of Registration for January Elections

by Scott Stearns

Nigerians go to the polls in January to choose new lawmakers, state governors, and a president. Some voters are concerned there will not be enough time to register everyone who wants to vote.

Nigeria's electoral commission this week ended months of speculation about the timing of next year's vote by announcing that legislative elections will be held January 15 followed by presidential voting on the 22nd and gubernatorial voting on the 29th.

Engineer Ibrahim Okoki says it is about time.

"We want a good leader to lead our country that is why I am so eager, I am waiting anxiously for January 22 to vote for the good president who is going to lead our country," said Ibrahim Okoki.

Federal elections in 2007 were marred by wide-spread allegations of fraud and intimidation. Accountant Awonusi Adewale says a fairer vote this time will help Nigeria's economy.

"The political stability in any country is very important for the investors and the economy, for those who have investment in Nigeria, they want the transition to be smooth," said Awonusi Adewale.

The electoral commission says registration for that voting will be held during the first 14 days of November. But some Nigerians say that is not enough time for a country of more than 150 million people.

Chief Francis Malam Obi is a community leader in Nigeria's southern Delta region.

"Fourteen days is not enough for the process because most of them will come from where ever they are staying in Lagos or Abuja," said Francis Malam Obi. "They will like to go home to their hometown to register, so it is not enough at all. You need a good registration, so the 14 days is too small. They should make it one month."

If the registration is not completed successfully, Reverend Sylvester Odemelukpore says the electoral commission should extend the exercise.

"My opinion is let us try the 14," said Sylvester Odemelukpore. "But they shouldn't stay on it. Maybe if they didn't meet up, they should also have other extensions. But let's try to work on the 14 days being stipulated."

Ruling-party politician Austin Oboba says the timeline was imposed on the electoral commission by the federal government, which moved up voting from April to January.

"Democracy has been in Nigeria," Austin Oboba said. "We have experienced it now without interruption, and we want that culture to be maintained. Even though we are not going to expect 100 percent perfect registration, but at least something is being done."

Oboba says most Nigerians view political affairs with suspicion. But the only way to make a difference is to take part in the process.

"When you are saying you don't want Mr. A or Mr. B to be there, what is your strength? Your only instrument is by registering," he said. "So if you have your vote, if you put your one vote it is counted. And you make the man of your choice to win. So if you don't register, already you have disenfranchised yourself. You can only talk. But you can not act."

Reverend Odemelukpore says he is encouraging his congregation to take part.

"Let them go out there and get themselves registered so that they have access to vote," he said. "Because if you don't register, you don't have access to vote. So we are doing our level best to sensitize our people, our members, the Christian community, to go and register so they can come out en mass to vote for the person they wish to vote for."

Vegetable seller Mary Haruna says she has yet to see a candidate she would vote for.

"I only pray to God to select a good leader for us," said Mary Haruna. "There is no one that we know now who is good for us. Only God knows the best person."

Ruling-party governors say President Goodluck Jonathan has told them that he will be a candidate in this vote. That would disrupt a regional power-sharing agreement that says the next president should be from northern Nigeria. Mr. Jonathan is expected to formally  announce his candidacy later this month.