Monday, 6 June 2011

Election fever - free, fair and fatal

When VSO asked us to stay inside during all three voting days, and on the days that results were announced, I thought they were being over-cautious but my Nigerian colleagues did not!  It turned out that every voting day between 8am and 4pm, there were “movement restrictions”, people being supposed to travel only on foot, and only with the purpose of voting.  This was to reduce the possibility of anybody interfering with the voting process, by intimidation, persuasion, or other means.  
Voting is time consuming, despite already being registered voters had to turn up for “accreditation” and then wait to cast their vote.  They were also encouraged to stay around until the end of voting and witness the count, which was to be posted at each voting post. 
Generally the elections have been commended by national and international observers as free and fair, although there have been “isolated” cases of rigging and stuffing.  Stuffing – is a term applied to stealing ballot boxes and “stuffing” them with votes, using ballot papers of voters who didn’t show up to vote.  There were also a number of bombings and fatalities: of the INEC (electoral commission office) and several in Maiduguri.  My colleagues said “they gave their lives for democracy”.
Nigeria only emerged from a military government in 1999, the President “elected” then was a former military dictator, he was re-elected in 2003.  In 2007 the late Yar’Adua was elected, and succeeded by his Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan last year, who has now in 2011 been elected President.
All was well (ish) until the outcome of the presidential election, after which riots erupted in the North, leaving around 800 dead and displacing around 50,000.  A quick look at the map below helps to explain why. (Map from BBC website read more here)  Apparently the trouble began in Katsina, when people already celebrating the supposed victory of Buhari, heard the news that Jonathan had been elected and assumed that the election had been rigged, not in their favour.  To give some context this country is enormous, and is massively divided between rich and poor, Islam and Christianity, 250 ethnic groups and 500 languages.  And of course these many groups did not chose to become a country, like most of Africa, the country Nigeria is a result of colonialism.  The practice of gaining control over other countries and ocuppying them with settlers, (Oxford English Dictionary) 
Source BBC
Three large cities in the North, (all of which I have visited) Kano, Kaduna and Kafanchan were affected.  Here are two stories of people affected. 

xxxx, originally from Lagos (in the South) was in his house, when people came to the door and asked him if he was a Christian or a Muslim, fortunately for him, they were looking for Muslims.  They made him recite the Lord’s Prayer to prove his Christianity, and killed his Muslim friends in front of him.  He fled hiding in the bush, until he could fly out of the area.  Unsurprising he has now resigned his job in the North.
Kim a volunteer, based in Kafanchan, was out of the country at the time.  She lives in Kagoro, the market was burnt down, now there are two markets one for Christians and one for Muslims

Clearly many people were involved in this violence, some say it was orchestrated, whether or not it was, people took part in widespread violence and murder.  After the Rwanda genocide, I came to the inclusion that in the right circumstances anybody could become a murder, these circumstances could be fear, hunger, anger, ......  In Nigeria, 90% of people live on less than $2 a day, and 70% on less than $1 (that is not enough to live on, I tried $1.25 a day just for food for a week, I was hungry, you can read about it here).   There is  a lack of political leadership, and  underlying tensions between ethnic groups...., maybe someone offers you money to take part, or threatens to kill you if you don't, what do you do...?
Ironically while all this was going on all was well in the South, I was reading War and Peace at the time, which recounts the insanity of a war between the Russian and the French, in the midst of it the “high society” continue their lives relatively normally.
So what next? – Well people try to get on with their lives, Kim, above is amazed by their tenacity – read here.  VSO volunteers who were evacuated from those towns go back to their houses and jobs, and I have now experienced an African election.  On a positive one of my Nigerian colleagues says that Nigeria is on a journey towards democracy and despite the violence and trouble things are getting better.  I hope he is right.

1 comment:

  1. Very intersting Emily - I look forward to a follow up - if you plan to do one of course. It's always interesting to get a perspective from those with more of an insight!