Fever Pitch For Nigerian Electorate

The Atmosphere Heats Up As Election Days Looms in The World's Most Populous Black Nation

by Gottfried Moh

Fever Pitch For Nigerian Electorate

Nigerians are expected to cast their ballots on Saturday February 23, seven days after the country's presidential and parliamentary elections were abruptly postponed just hours before polling stations opened.

With 84 million people registered to vote in the country, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has the mammoth task of overseeing the voting process in Africa's largest democracy.

In the early hours of February 16, INEC's chairman said that after a review of the "logistics and operational plan," proceeding with the vote that day was not feasible.

The fallout was swift, with the two main political parties blaming one another. Nigeria is also counting the economic cost of delaying the elections, which has been put at more than $2 billion, according to analysis firm SBM Intelligence, which estimates that Nigeria lost 0.531% of its $420 billion gross domestic product.

Many figures, such as Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson, expressed concern that one week wasn't enough time for the INEC to deal with the concerns they expressed previously.

The delay also comes with a new set of logistical challenges. For example, the dates on thousands of electronic card readers for biometric voting were all required to be changed to the new election date. INEC says that it has now reconfigured 100% of these readers and is on track to deliver voting materials to states that didn't originally have them.

While voting looks likely to go ahead, there are fears of low voter participation on Saturday, including those expressed by INEC itself. Spokesman for the Commission, Festus Okoye told local media on Monday, "We are worried about voter turnout."

People travel from major cities such as Lagos and Kano to their home towns or villages to vote where they are registered. Some are unlikely to make another trip after last week's wasted journey, or will be unwilling to pay to travel again.

In an effort to encourage full participation of the electorate, the government has declared the eve of the elections a public holiday and airlines are offering discounts. Groups and prominent individuals (including Pastor Reno Omokri) are also organizing free "buses for democracy," to help combat voter apathy.

The delay has increased tensions in these crucial elections and there has been some violence in the build-up, prompting warnings from the British and US governments that they would deny visas to, and could prosecute, anyone found inciting violence during the election.

Normal life has been put on hold nationwide for the elections, with borders closed and drivers urged not to take their cars on the roads. Curfews will also be in place across various cities ahead of the elections.

To be elected, either Buhari or Abubakar (or another very unlikely candidate) must score the majority of votes, and clinch more than 25% of the vote in at least 24 of the 36 states. It will go to a re-run if no one meets the required margins.