News / Africa

Nigerian Voters Begin Registering for April Elections

People wait in line at a registration center in Abuja, 15 Jan 2011.
People wait in line at a registration center in Abuja, 15 Jan 2011.

Voter registration is underway in Africa's most populous nation as Nigerians prepare for April elections to ch oose state governors, legislators, and a president.

Voter registration got off to a poor start with many centers opening late and then having trouble linking laptop computers with fingerprint scanners, cameras, and printers to produce voter cards on site.

Electoral commission chairman Attahiru Jega says the scale and complexity of this exercise is like nothing Nigeria has ever seen. But he is reassuring voters that all of these initial problems will be sorted out by Monday so the remaining two weeks of the registration run smoothly.

Voter registration officer Francis Uche heard many complaints at his center in Abuja. But he believes the electoral commission, which is known as INEC, will get it right.

"Everything will be in place, both the plastic chair and the table and the canopy we needed because we are meant to stay outside," he said. "Everything will be provided by tomorrow morning, and everything will be set."

INEC's problems were compounded by the large number of people who turned out to register, motivated in part by a public outreach campaign on radio and television.

"Only once can you register. Any other registration is a criminal offense. The exercise will start
from 8 am in the morning to 5 pm in the evening everyday. Go to register to vote because your vote is your power. Help INEC to make the 2011 election our best!"

President Goodluck Jonathan was one of the first to register in his home state of Bayelsa, telling reporters that voter registration is the beginning of good governance.

"For us to run our states and local governments and our country well the people must select their leaders," said Jonathan. "And for the people to select their leaders that means that the voting must be done properly. And the only way to do that is to get a proper voter registrations exercise, which is being done by INEC."

President Jonathan came to office eight months ago following the death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. He was Mr. Yar'Adua's running mate in a 2007 election that was widely criticized for vote fraud and intimidation. The new government set in motion a series of electoral reforms that Jonathan has continued to pursue as president.

He says all Nigerians should have confidence in the coming vote, even those who dislike his government.

"In some cases, if you criticize the system, you don't even register," he said. "You don't even have a voter's card. This time around, we are emphasizing that your vote must count."

More than 70 million Nigerians are eligible to take part in this voter registration, so there is some concern whether it can all be completed in two weeks. The entire electoral timeline has already been pushed back once because the electoral commission said it needed more time to prepare materials and train workers at more than 120,000 registration centers.

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