Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network
March 30 (GIN) – Showing a “commendable determination to register their vote and choose their leaders,” Nigerians by the hundreds of thousands lined up at polling stations across the country to select the next president and National Assembly of their country, U.S. and British witnesses to the hotly contested presidential race observed.
In a joint statement by the British foreign secretary and the U.S. secretary of state, the observer governments “welcomed the largely peaceful vote on March 28.”
Concerns over the possibilities of fraud were quietly swept away when the national election commission called the winner of the country’s presidential poll as Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress.
Buhari edged out his rival by approximately 2 million votes. A phone call from the defeated president, Goodluck Jonathan, reached Buhari’s headquarters at around 5 p.m. local time with congratulations on the victory.
After 35 of the 36 states vote totals were tallied, Buhari appeared to have captured 14.9 million votes compared with Jonathan’s 12.8 million.
The massive balloting and collection was marred by missteps as the new voter cards failed, sensitive materials were snatched, election officials were held captive and protestors were teargassed. Thousands of ballots were rejected, and some polling stations were closed without notice, including in major cities such as Lagos.
Even before preliminary tallies were recorded, the opposition APC rejected the process in Rivers State and denounced the vote there as “a sham and a charade.”
A similar complaint came from Gov. Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, who complained of soldiers harassing voters, shootings, ballot boxes mishandled and the arrest of his senior special advisor. “This is the worst act of militarization of democracy,” Okorocha said.
The new imported biometric machines “largely failed to read voter cards,” commented Kayode Idowu, spokesman for the Independent National Electoral Commission. Even the president was affected as three machines failed to recognize the fingerprints of Jonathan and his wife.
Unlike in previous years, social media was around and captured many of the conflict images, which were quickly uploaded to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This exposure moved Daniel M. Bijimi to call out on Twitter, “Everyone with an Internet enabling phone is now a journalist in #NigeriaDecides and #Nigeria2015!”
Among the citizen photos were two from Rivers State, where women are seen in clouds of teargas as they struggled to reach the office of the INEC, to demand suspension of the electoral commissioner, who they claimed was rigging the election for Jonathan.
In southern Akwa Ibom State, citizen journalists captured the governorship candidate from the opposition displaying sheets of ballots discarded allegedly by rogue staff of the INEC and officials of the ruling PDP.
The number of rejected ballots around the country was disturbingly high. Nassarawa, in the nation’s center, registered 10,094 rejected ballots, enough to put either of the candidates over the top.
In the final hours before victory was called, the major contenders—Jonathan of the PDP, seeking re-election, and Buhari of the APC, an ex-military man seeking a return to power—were running neck and neck. In addition to the PDP and APC, 13 other parties were vying for the nation’s top job in polls across 36 states with 68 million registered voters.
Among those commenting on the polls was Nigeria’s foremost man of letters, Wole Soyinka, who lamented, “This has been one of the most vicious, unprincipled, vulgar and violent election exercises I have ever witnessed … I just hope we won’t go down as being the incorrigible giant of Africa.”
Brooklyn College professor Mojubaolu Okome wrote, “Very proud of my 9ja ppl (Naija people). But the political class nko? Still too many scoundrels running around. My ppl., remember, democracy isn’t a spectator sport. Defending your vote doesn’t stop on Election Day. After INEC declares winner, you must ensure that your electeds take Tahoe wax out if their ears and listen to the voice of the majority, not those of the moneyed few who have helped to almost wreck our fledgling democracy.”
Among the hopeful tweets was this one from MistaAlinco: “If either GOODLUCK JONATHAN or BUHARI wins, I’ll still wake up in the greatest country in AFRICA tomorrow.”