Saturday, April 16, 2011

The 265th good thing about Lagos: Democratic elections, hopefully this time, free, fair and credible

This "Arab spring" as they are calling it has made us all aware of the power of the people, and how people everywhere want to have freedoms and the ability to choose the leaders of their country.   We were here 4 years ago during the last presidential elections and I was confused then about many things, and I can't say that things have been cleared up for me.  Yar'Adua, from the North, was elected, but then he disappeared and then died and the Vice President, from the South, Goodluck Jonathan became President.  This North and South stuff is important (the way I understand it) because the majority party, the PDP, had an arrangement or informal agreement within the party that their candidate would alternate every 8 years between the Muslim North and the Christian South.  They refer to it as "regional power sharing."  When Muslim Yar'Adua died and the Christian Jonathan took over, the North lost some of their "rightful" years of power.  So, when the PDP decided to keep Goodluck Jonathan as their candidate, there was some fear of conflict over this leading up to this month's election process. But, though there are always local uprisings and violence in Nigeria, there, thankfully, haven't been any widespread disruptions.  Goodluck Jonathan is widely expected to win the election and remain as president.

Voter registration was a long and involved affair that was scheduled for January.  It was delayed and extended into February due to problems with the equipment and the process.  There were 70 million people eligible to register to vote and the information on the election commission's website says that the final number registered was 67,764,327. This is an amazing percentage, especially considering many people had to take a day off of work and wait in line for hours to register to vote -- it was not an easy process.

Elections were scheduled for 3 Saturdays in April.  We were expecting to miss the first Saturday of elections while we were in London, scheduled for April 2nd.  That was why Brent got an extra weekend in London, as the company wouldn't do airport runs from Friday through Monday due to election travel restrictions and their own excess caution, so we had to leave on Thursday.  Since it gave us a free weekend in London, we aren't complaining!  But election morning, after some people had already cast their vote, the election was cancelled because many polling stations hadn't received their election materials.  All the votes that had been cast were cancelled and the elections that day were rescheduled for last Saturday, April 9th.  So last Saturday elections for the National Assembly were held, with votes cast for the House of Representatives and Senators.  But voting was just held in about 2/3 of the precincts, as some areas were still not equipped to handle the process.

Today is the presidential election.  The really different thing about the election process here is that this city of 16 million (or who knows how many) comes to a complete halt, and I assume it's the same in other cities throughout the country.  The borders of the country are sealed and there are travel restrictions throughout the nation.  No businesses are open and people are expected to stay home all day except when they walk to their local voting place.  I can't imagine anything like this happening in the States.  We live on a very busy road here and normally get a lot of traffic noise in our flat, so for us election days are quite peaceful and relaxing  (great for catching up on blog posts....).  I'm not minding being restricted to our apartment.  And we have a fairly good view of the election process, as our local polling table is right below our bedroom balcony.  I went out on the balcony when I heard people gathering midday.  At first there was a small crowd gathering as they waited for the polling station to be ready.  Shortly after noon, they were instructed to get in line and soon a poll worker was giving out little slips of paper as she called out numbers, I guess giving people their voting order so they could get out of line while they waited their turn.

 The wooden voting table was under a large tree beside the road, so it's difficult to see in this picture, but someone was sitting at this table, writing something on each ballot to get them ready to hand out to the voters.  Hopefully she wasn't filling out their ballot and marking votes for them!

Since the initial crowd, voters have been coming and going from the polling station.  There are definitely more people voting at this election than there were here last Saturday.  The percentages I heard of votes cast overall last week ranged around 20-30% of voters.  Many Nigerians I talked to said either that they didn't know who to vote for, so they didn't bother, or they were hesitant to go out because there were so many police in the streets and they were nervous to leave their homes.

The final election day, for State offices, was rescheduled for Tuesday, April 26th.  So this will be a day during the work week when the economy will again come to a halt as voters are given the opportunity to go to the polls.  Although I am amazed that they allow 3 days of total non-productivity for this election process, I suppose that it is admirable that the country will put so much emphasis on the importance of voting.  There is great hope that the voting here will be more free, fair and credible than it has been in the past, when the process was full of fraud and corruption.

I don't think our current president needs me to wish him "Goodluck" on his election today.  According to this campaign poster, he also has the good wishes of President Obama, and assures him "Yes we can, sir!"

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