News / Africa

Nigeria Counting Votes From Parlimentary Elections

Soldiers and police stand guard as electoral officials count ballot papers after the National Assembly election in Ibadan, Nigeria,Saturday, April 9, 2011.
Soldiers and police stand guard as electoral officials count ballot papers after the National Assembly election in Ibadan, Nigeria,Saturday, April 9, 2011.

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Julia Ritchey

Election officials in Nigeria are counting votes from Saturday's parliamentary elections in which large numbers of people turned out to cast ballots despite instances of violence. Counting began as soon as polls closed Saturday, to ensure transparency. Election officials across the country held up ballots and shouted the results to crowds of voters who gathered to make sure the process was fair.

Late Saturday, election officials say a bomb exploded in a vote counting center in Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria. Earlier in the day, a bomb went off at a polling station in the same city, wounding several people.

Nigerian officials optimistic for a smooth start to elections quickly had their hopes dashed when an explosion ripped through an election office on the eve of Saturday's polls.

The bomb blast causing mulitple deaths and injuries struck a town just 20 kilometers northwest of the capital Abuja. The blast was just the latest in a series of obstacles that have beset these polls, including two delays and sporadic violence throughout the campaign season.

Yet despite these problems, voters still seemed hopeful of the poll's outcome.

"We are still upgrading our democracy because we are still not very strong, but as time goes on and by the time we see the outcome of this election, then we will be able to know where we are and where we are going," said one voter.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and top oil producer, has struggled to hold credible elections since the end of military rule in 1999.

The Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) had to twice postpone Saturday's poll after it had problems distributing enough voting ballots to the thousands of polling stations across the country. About 15 percent of the country still has to wait to cast ballots for members of parliament until the end of the month.

Former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is leading a delegation of election monitors for the National Democratic Institute. Speaking from a polling booth in Abuja, Corzine said it was too soon to draw any conclusions about the quality of the polls.

"I want to be optimistic, but I think that I want to wait and hear from a cross section of our observers," said Corzine.  "It is quiet in the parts of Abuja we've been at and organized. Certainly with all of the preparations we went through ourselves to effectively observe, the intent of the system seems constructive. We'll see whether it gets executed in broad form across the country."

These elections are being seen as a test for Nigeria's democracy after previous elections have been widely criticized for vote rigging and violence.

The head of the electoral commission has promised "free and fair elections" for Nigeria's 70 million voters, installing new fraud-proof ballot sheets and other procedures to cut down on cheating.

The INEC even has a Twitter account where it encouraged voters to send text messages to a designated phone number to report fraudulent acts.

Saturday's poll is just the first in a three-part general election. Presidential polls are slated for April 16, and state polls the week after.

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