Nigeria's elections a vast improvement of 2007 sham polls

In the final round of national elections, Nigerians cast votes for local governors Tuesday. As in previous rounds, the voting process was messy, but much cleaner than those of 2007.

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
A man casts his vote at a polling unit in the Dugbe neighborhood during the governorship election in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria, on April 26. The final stage in Nigeria's long election process began on Tuesday with fiercely contested state governorship polls to be held from the southern oil delta to the Muslim north.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

Despite the problems with Nigeria's parliamentary, presidential, and local elections over the past month, and despite the feeling of many voters that rigging did occur, I have not encountered a single Nigerian voter who says that these polls were not a marked improvement over the 2007 sham polls.

Those elections had demoralized the average citizen and empowered the crooked political elites of Africa's most populous country.

Late Tuesday night, by the light of single generator-powered bulb held aloft by an enthusiastic voter, I observed one of the success stories from these elections: the hard work and remarkable dedication of young, recent university graduates serving in the country's National Youth Service Corps.

Joshua, the presiding officer at a polling station in the Plateau State town of Shendam, was one of these youth corps members who had been giving his all for more than 14 hours in order to conduct a credible process at this particular station.

Political party agents at the station insisted that he and his colleagues destroy the unused ballots one by one. Joshua was not required by electoral law to do this. However, knowing that the political party agents were asking him to do it in order to prevent ballot stuffing while the boxes are being transmitted to the collation center and up the chain to the electoral commission, Joshua conceded for the sake of transparency.

This morning, on my drive back to the sterile and well-manicured capital of Abuja, I saw a less positive side of this elections cycle: hyped up youth posing a danger to themselves and other citizens as they chanted their party slogans and scared the other passengers in the beat-up vehicle we were traveling in together.

Upon seeing the youth surging in the street ahead of us, my fellow passengers and I instantly began fearing a "wahala" – a Nigerian synonym for "big problem" – along the lines of the deadly violence that rocked the northern region of the country last week.

We joined the rowdy crowd surrounding our car in shouting their favorite opposition party slogans, hoping they would let us through. Later, I learned these youths were celebrating the likely victory of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change candidate in Nassarawa state, who upset the incumbent from the ruling People's Democratic Party.

For them – and for others in different local races – these elections proved that the much-touted "change" voters hoped for is possible.

At the same time, as I watched these men take pickaxes to a ruling party billboard on the roadside, I hoped that after this year's relatively successful elections, the "do or die" politics once embraced by Nigeria's self-interested political elite is actually on the way out, and not just on hiatus.

Maggie Fick is a Sudan-based journalist covering the Nigerian elections, who blogs here.

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