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March 31, 2011

Nigerians Prepare for Nationwide Elections on April 2

by Scott Stearns

Electoral officials and security forces in Nigeria are preparing for nationwide voting Saturday.  This is to be the first of three elections this month to choose new lawmakers, governors, and a president for Africa's most populous nation.

Electoral commission chairman Attahiru Jega says authorities are well-positioned to conduct a vote that he says will go a long way to satisfy the hope of Nigerians for free, fair, and credible elections.

"We have prepared adequately in terms of logistics preparations, in terms of the training of our staff, and in terms of affective liaisons with the security agencies in order to provide security before, during, and after elections," said Jega.

Security is a big concern as there have been a series of bombings at campaign events with separate militant groups in the north and in the south threatening to disrupt the vote.  As a result Nigeria has shut its land borders and authorities will also restrict the movement of vehicles while voters cast ballots.

"There are tremendous concerns about the level of violence that has been brought into the election process thus far," added Jega.  "We believe that this violence has to be de-escalated and there is absolute need for everybody to preach peace, to work toward peace, to ensure that there are no conflicts, and to ensure that there is no violent conduct on election day."

Hafiz Ringim is the Inspector General of Nigerian Police. He says security officers and the military are out in force across the country.

"This is with a view to ensuring that no stone is left unturned, no chances or opportunities are allowed thugs, rogues, and vagabonds in order to make proper effort to disrupt the election exercises," added Ringim.

President Goodluck Jonathan says his government is working to ensure a peaceful vote.

"We have noted issues of violence even in the campaigns," said Jonathan.  "But that has opened the eyes of the security agencies, and they are working around the clock, and they will ensure that elections are not disrupted."

Voter Sunday Okoro says the money and time Nigerians have invested in this vote should not be wasted by violence.

"We are fully ready to defend our vote," said Okoro.  "We are fully ready to elect our credible leaders. We are fully ready to partake in this election. The money spent so far cannot be a waste again."

Voter Comfort Enemegu says the electoral commission has done a good job educating voters about the process and discouraging them from selling their votes.

"The party you wish to vote for is the party you will cast your vote for. It is one man, one vote now. They are all aware. I have my voter's card. I am very much prepared," Enemegu explained.

Saturday's vote for lawmakers will be followed by presidential elections April 9 and gubernatorial elections on April 16.

Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) is hoping to retain its hold on the presidency and parliament.

Mr. Jonathan is seeking his first full term after rising to power last year following the death of predecessor Umaru Yar'Adua.  His run was opposed by some PDP members who accuse him of breaking an informal rule to rotate the presidential nomination between Muslims from the north and Christians from the south.

Mr. Jonathan is a Christian, while Mr. Yar'Adua was a Muslim. President Yar'Adua died just three years into what was expected to be a two-term, eight-year presidency.

Nigeria's population of 140 million, the largest in Africa, is split roughly evenly between Muslims and Christians.