Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan headed into today’s election in Africa’s top oil producer as the firm favorite after the opposition failed to unite behind a single candidate to stand against him.
Voters lined up at polling centers across the country for their opening at 8 a.m. local time, the Independent National Electoral Commission said in an e-mailed statement today.
“The reports we have show that voter turnout is much higher than what we had during last week’s election,” Jibrin Ibrahim, director of the Abuja-based Center for Democracy and Development, which is monitoring the elections, said by phone today.
Ballot stuffing and under-age voting were reported in some northern states including Benue, Bauchi, Gombe and Kano, while election observers were arrested in the central Plateau and Kwara states, and in the southern Anambra and Delta states, Ibrahim said, citing reports from members of his group.
Nigerians are choosing whether to give power to Jonathan, a 53-year-old Christian from the oil-rich southern Niger River delta region, where an armed insurgency, now largely quiet, cut the nation’s crude output by 28 percent from 2006 to 2009. His two main challengers, both Muslim northerners, are former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, 68, and Nuhu Ribadu, the 50- year-old ex-head of the anti-graft agency.
“It’s an emotional thing for the Niger delta to have one of their own at the top,” Anyakwee Nsirimovu, executive director of Port Harcourt-based Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, said by phone yesterday.
While Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party saw its majority in the Senate and House of Representatives reduced in last week’s legislative elections, it still scored well throughout Africa’s most populous nation. To win in the first round, Jonathan must obtain a majority and secure 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states. Results from the 120,000 voting stations are due within 48 hours, according to the electoral commission.
While Jonathan’s campaign slogan is a “breath of fresh air,” his PDP has ruled Nigeria since it emerged from military rule in 1999. There are no real ideological differences between the candidates, said Rotimi Oyekanmi, the chief executive officer of Renaissance Capital West Africa.
“Instead, there are a number of critical issues. One is the power situation, another is the Niger Delta and then corruption,” he said yesterday by phone from Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. “They all seem to be saying the same things, though saying they’ll do better than the other.”
Jonathan has pledged to target spending on infrastructure, including power and railways, in a bid to boost employment in a country where more than half of the people live on less than $1 a day, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
“The road map for power, which aims to improve power supply by selling the state-owned power companies to investors, is one critical thing he has done,” Oyekanmi said.
Buhari and Ribadu have said that Jonathan has failed to tackle poverty, corruption and violence.
Jonathan was leading in the latest public opinion poll conducted by Ipsos for ThisDay, the Lagos-based newspaper reported on April 6. The survey said 62.1 percent of the voters favored Jonathan for today’s vote, compared with 23.6 percent for Buhari and 6 percent for Ribadu, with more than 6 percent undecided.
In last week’s vote, “the PDP has won across the country, unlike the other parties,” Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, said by phone yesterday from Abuja, the capital. “In places it didn’t win, it came second. I think that lead will be difficult to overturn by the other parties.”
The son of a canoe-making family with a degree in zoology, Jonathan was relatively unknown when he emerged onto the political stage in 1999 as the deputy governor of Bayelsa state. He became governor when his boss, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was impeached by the state assembly after being charged in the U.K. with money laundering. In 2007, he was picked as the running mate on the PDP ticket and in May assumed the presidency when Umaru Yar’Adua died.
Yar’Adua started an amnesty program in the Niger River delta that calmed militant attacks. Hague-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Chevron Corp. (CVX) of San Ramon, California, Total SA (FP) of France and Italy’s Eni SpA (ENI) run joint ventures with the state oil company that pump more than 90 percent of the West African nation’s oil.
Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, which accounts for 80 percent of government revenue, earned $59 billion last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The competition for the spoils of office spurred a violent electoral campaign with at least 25 people killed during the legislative vote, Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman Attahiru Jega said on April 13.
An explosion was reported at about 8:30 p.m. yesterday at an electoral commission office in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state. No one was hurt, Borno Police Commissioner Mike Zuokumor said by phone today. Earlier in the day two people, including a soldier, were killed and seven others injured when unknown gunmen opened fire on residents in the city’s Gwange distract, according to police. Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the shooting, Zuokumor said.
Investor concern over election-related violence and mainly Muslim-Christian clashes in the north, which have claimed more than 200 lives since Dec. 24, sparked a surge in demand for foreign currency, according to the central bank. The naira reached an 18-month low against the dollar on March 17.
“In a pre-election period all investments are suspect,” Governor Lamido Sanusi said in a telephone interview from Abuja on April 11.
The last elections, in 2007, were described as flawed by international and local monitors for violent intimidation of voters, falsification of figures and widespread ballot-snatching.
While there were bomb attacks on some polling stations and ballot snatching and vote tampering in others, most international and local observers said last week’s legislative elections were generally free and fair.
“If you don’t have an election sufficiently trusted by the people, it could cause problems and even lead to conflict,” Emmanuel Ezeazu, the director of the Alliance for Credible Elections, a coalition of civil groups, said by phone from Abuja. “People will think they don’t have enough political space to express themselves and they’ll look for alternative means.”
Voting in 15 percent of all legislative seats was deferred until April 26 due to problems with ballot papers that caused the three-stage elections to be postponed by one week. The vote for state governors and legislators will take place the same day.
“There are going to be problems,” former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, a co-leader of the National Democratic Institute’s observer team, said yesterday by phone from Abuja. “The real issue has to do with the seriousness of those problems, whether they are local or more general. But no one expects this will be without problems.”