Nigerians To Vote In Elections Saturday, After A Week-Long Delay

Feb 22, 2019
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Nigerians are counting down to much-anticipated elections tomorrow, elections to choose a president and lawmakers. The vote was supposed to be last week, but the country's election commission said there were logistical problems and postponed it. Now they say they're ready and urging the country to vote peacefully. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from the capital, Abuja.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELECTION NO BE WAR")

JOVIN AND OKROZ: (Singing) Election no be war.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Election no be war, sings popular Nigerian musician Jovin, featuring Okroz. That means an election is not a war in Nigeria's lingua franca, Pidgin English. And that's the message from the organizers of the hotly contested presidential and National Assembly elections and from the security forces. Vote peacefully, and shun violence. In a country where previous elections have often turned ugly and deadly, Nigeria is facing the Boko Haram-Islamic State West Africa insurgency in the northeast, herder-farmer conflicts in the center and militant activity in the oil-producing region.

FRANK MBA: Our mission is to make sure that tomorrow, Nigerians are able to leave their homes, go out unharassed by anyone, cast their ballots and return home in the same way they left their homes.

QUIST-ARCTON: Frank Mba is Nigeria's federal police spokesman. He says more than 350,000 police officers deployed countrywide on election duty are on the alert, especially in possible flashpoints.

MBA: Close to four weeks now, intelligence operatives have been out on the field feeding us back with intelligence information. We are not brutal, but we can be hard - hard on crime.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELECTION NO BE WAR")

JOVIN AND OKROZ: (Singing) Election no be war.

QUIST-ARCTON: Peaceful, violence-free elections is the theme taken up by President Muhammadu Buhari in his nationwide address this morning when he urged Nigerians to vote massively. Buhari, a former military leader, is seeking a second four-year term and faces dozens of presidential challengers, including the opposition frontrunner, former vice president and businessman Atiku Abubakar. After a week-long delay announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission at the eleventh hour early last Saturday blaming logistical issues, the commission's Festus Okoye is promising Nigerians this time they're all set.

FESTUS OKOYE: The Nigerian people - we are disappointed. We are angry. But they have decided to give us a second chance. And we are grabbing it with two hands, and we are not going to disappoint the Nigerian people.

QUIST-ARCTON: Election officials say almost 73 million people have been issued with their voting cards, among them Christian Okafor, who was traveling the nine hours by road from Abuja back to his hometown in the southeast. Despite the one-week postponement, he's still determined to vote.

CHRISTIAN OKAFOR: Yes. That's the important thing, to vote. We are voting for a change. I'm voting for a change. People are suffering. The suffering is everywhere. It's everywhere. So we need a change.

QUIST-ARCTON: Okoye, from the electoral commission, had this final message for all those taking part in the vote in Nigeria.

OKOYE: We appeal to the political elites, to the political parties, to the candidates to conduct themselves in a manner befitting a country that is trying to institutionalize democracy as the best form of government.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nigeria's presidential election results are expected midweek. If no one candidate wins outright, the vote goes to a runoff. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abuja. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.