Many years ago, I met a Kenyan who had spent some time in the UK and was there during a general election, he had been surprised how life went on as normal.
I am about to experience my first African election, there are three voting days, on 2nd, 9th and 16th April, Parliamentary, Presidential and State governors and legislators.
Things are a little tense, before 1st October, when there was a bombing during the Independence Day Celebrations; any violence in Nigeria was isolated, in specific points and linked to ethnic / religious issues. Since then there was another bombing at Abacha Barracks on New Years Eve, and MEND a group trying to get justice from oil companies for the people in the Delta have threatened to bomb strategic locations in the Niger Delta, Abuja and Lagos.
During January all the schools were closed, supposedly for voter registration, but others said it was to stop the schools being a focal point for violence.
Last week, we received a strongly worded email from VSO with their security plans, these are that we should not leave our houses for the three voting days, or on the day results are announced. If we feel unsafe we are to let VSO know and move somewhere safer. If VSO or our countries want us to evacuate we should proceed to Abuja. Hopefully of course apart from being “grounded” (yes they used that term) for four days, none of this will happen. However when I told my colleagues that VSO didn’t want us to leave the house all day, they thought it was very sensible advice, I was expecting them to tell me it was over cautious.
The other election advice we have been given, and have been being given for months, is to avoid crowded areas and talking about politics. So my first action to maintain my safety took place yesterday. I had just arrived back in Ibadan, after a weekend in Ife, and was at Iwo Road, a big junction full of traffic, traders, people begging, and the Ibadan Marathon was passing through. I walked off to get the first of two shared taxis home to be told there was “no road” (a Nigerian term used when a road is closed, in this case for the Marathon), I would have to take a motorbike, now I am quite scared of Ibadan traffic so I decided to take a taxi instead. Then as I sat in the taxi I realised I was in the middle of total grid lock, in a crowded area, in the part of town I had been warned could be prone to election violence. I got scared and decided I would after all be safer on a bike. So my first "keeping safe in the election action" was to take a bike instead of a car.