Bombs mar Nigeria election, but fail to dampen voters' enthusiasm

Voters turned out in droves Saturday, despite a bomb blast late Friday that killed at least 8 people and injured more than two dozen, many of them young volunteer elections workers.

Sunday Alamba/AP
People wait to register at a polling station at Oyeleye in Ibadan, Nigeria,Saturday. Nigeria slowly began the first of three crucial votes in the oil-rich nation Saturday, as voters came out to cast ballots despite a bomb attack and threats of violence.

A deadly explosion at a polling station, a separate bomb blast at an electoral office on the eve of the vote, and other elections-related security incidents did not stop Nigerians from enthusiastically turning out in droves to vote in Saturday's parliamentary elections.

Across the country, voters lined up at some 120,000 polling stations and waited patiently to choose the future members of Nigeria's National Assembly -- government officials who earn salaries of more than $1million per year while the average Nigerian citizen scrapes by on less than two dollars per day.

Fears that voter turnout would be sharply down from last Saturday -- when the parliamentary vote was postponed midway through the day after ballot papers failed to arrive at stations across the country -- did not materialize.

After a series of flawed elections since the country abandoned miltary rule in 1999, Nigerians are optimistic, even confident, that this month's parliamentary, presidential, and state governorship polls will be different.

"It's a better [elections] process, we know it, and that's why we're out to vote," said Danjuma Bawa, a teacher in Jos, a city at the crossroads of the mostly Muslim north and the largely Christian south. "I didn't vote come out for the past two elections, but now that I know this election has been scrutinized, I know my vote will count this time."

Voting delays

At a polling station near Mr. Bawa's, registered voters and children milled about on a street corner at 9:30 am, an hour after elections officials were supposed to open the polling station to begin the accreditation part of the voting exercise.

When a beat-up green minivan showed up a few minutes later with the poll workers in tow, the crowd on the corner sprung to their feet and quickly organized themselves into lines snaking down the unpaved, rutted street past stone buildings still devastated from violence in Jos more than two years ago.

Similar delays in the opening of polling stations were reported in other areas of the country. The accreditation process, designed to protect the integrity of the high-tech and expensive new voter registry system, dragged on in to the afternoon at stations, where the voting process was supposed to begin at 12:30 after the morning's accreditation process concluded.

Elections observer and civil society activist Samson Itodo says he "was not impressed" with the continued logistical hang-ups, which the electoral commission had promised to resolve after delaying all three rounds of polling by one week or more.

Heightened security

Throughout the country, security was tightened after a bomb blast late Friday near the capital of Abuja killed at least 8 people and injured more than two dozen more, many of them young volunteer elections workers.

In Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt region, where the latest surge of violence last December left more than 200 people dead, checkpoints of tires and wood manned by soldiers and scores of police deployed near polling sites added to the air of tense calm in an area that has experienced repeated waves of sectarian violence since 2001.

"We're not taking any chances," said deputy police commissioner Dipo Ayeni during a morning visit to a polling station in the southern part of Jos, capital of Plateau state in the Middle Belt. "We have blocked all the loopholes and our men are well-trained."

"We are praying to God for change to affect this country," said Kessim Sanusi Umar, 55, a Muslim man from the Hausa ethnic group who says his people have been discriminated against by the state and federal governments. "We need a new leader, someone who can unite us."

"We don't have anywhere else to go except Nigeria," Mr. Umar said.

Several miles away, in a predominately Christian area of town, with paved roads and a decrepit but functioning primary school hosting two polling stations, a Christian woman disputed that account of the country's political leadership.

Abigail Davou, a 29-year old accountant, said that she is "honestly in favor" of Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party, headed by president Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the country's oil-rich Delta region.

Next Saturday, Nigerians will once again head to the polls, this time to choose their president. Incumbent president Jonathan is predicted to face stiff oppostion from voters in the densely populated northern states, and some Nigerian analysts are predicting a run-off.

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