Currently living life in Douala, Cameroon, feeling blessed and enjoying a series of adventures, one day at a time.
Democratic elections have begun in Nigeria today.
Borders are closed, flights are cancelled and we are under a "no-movement" order from 10 pm Friday to 6 pm Saturday. "No movement" means that all transportation ceases everywhere in the country. The purpose of "no-movement" is to help keep order and to prevent people from voting in more than one area. In a land of little organization and over 150 million people, they have been able to create 120,000+ polling locations where everyone can walk to vote.
Instead of one election day, like in the US, Nigerian elections are spread over three weeks. The first election, held today, determines the Parliament members - similar to the US Congress. The positions remain highly lucrative, with more than $1 million in salaries and benefits PLUS the ability to direct a swollen budget in a nation where billions in oil revenues routinely go missing. Next Saturday will begin the presidential elections, followed by the state offices and governors for all 36 states. At this point, the elections should conclude on Tuesday, April 26th.
For those of you who have asked, we do not vote in the elections since we are not Nigerian citizens. However, as expats, we are told to stay at home and to avoid all rallies and demonstrations and polling areas. Violence has broken out in some areas, but we are totally safe where we live.
The voting process is very interesting and different from ours. The first democratic vote was in 1999, so this is only the third election in history. It has been improved from the last two and the goal is to have a process which is fair and free from violence and corruption. The original voting date was in January, but postponed in order to allow additional citizens to register. The election actually began last Saturday, but stopped mid-morning because the ballot papers had not been received in many areas. They rescheduled it for Monday; however on Sunday night it was determined that more time was needed, and it was rescheduled again for today. It's amazing how easily they can change national elections and get the word out effectively!
Below are details of election procedures from the newspaper, put in place to try to ensure credible ballots:
* Ballot papers will arrive at polling stations by 7 a.m. on polling day. The aim is to have them arrive at the last minute to avoid chances of tampering, but last week many didn't arrive at all.
* Everyone must register for accreditation to vote at their polling centre between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. Anyone who is not in the queue by then will be unable to vote.
* At 12.30 p.m., a queue for voting will be formed and a headcount will be taken.
* Voters will pick up a ballot paper, go to a secluded cubicle and mark the candidate of their choice with a thumbprint before placing the paper in a ballot box in full view of the public. INEC hopes this will prevent ballot-stuffing.
* Voting will continue until the last person has voted. Voters can remain at the polling centres to observe counting.
* The electoral commission says votes will be counted and announced "loudly" at each polling centre to ensure transparency & to build public confidence in the electoral process.
* If the total number of votes exceeds the number of accredited voters at a polling unit, the results for that centre will be nullified. This is to prevent ballot-stuffing and multiple voting, both problems at previous elections.
* INEC will not nullify more votes than the difference between the two top candidates, aiming to ensure that nobody can deliberately spoil ballot boxes to affect the outcome. If necessary, voting will be repeated.
* After the results are tallied, appropriate forms will be completed and signed by party agents. The Statement of Result Poll Form will be passed to the Registration Area Collation Officer. Results will be posted at all polling stations.
* INEC says results for parliamentary and governorship seats will be announced at local government and state level. There has been no time frame given. The presidential election result will be announced by INEC within 48 hours of the vote, providing everything proceeds as planned.
* INEC says there will be at least three security personnel at every polling station. Some stations will have more than 300 voters. Due to the limited number of police available, security will mostly come from the National Youth Service Corp.
* Security personnel at polling units will be unarmed. Soldiers will be policing towns and cities but will not be allowed around polling stations.
* Vehicle movement will be restricted between 10pm the day preceding elections and until 6 p.m. on election days. Election officials, security forces and emergency staff will still be allowed to drive.
* Candidates will not be allowed into polling centres with armed personnel. They will be required to vote and return home and will not be allowed to circulate or visit other voting centres. INEC hopes this will reduce voter intimidation.
* Members of the public will be able to report any fraud, violence or election tampering on a specially created website and via SMS text message to designated telephone numbers.
We are praying for you Nigeria as you decide the leaders for the future!!