Nigeria's ‘liberated' northeast seized by election fever
by Anadolu Agency
MaiduguriMar 27, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Anadolu Agency
Mar 27, 2015 12:00 am
Many Nigerians in the country's Boko Haram-wracked northeastern region are excited about upcoming March 28 general elections, citing "very good" improvements in the local security situation. "Everywhere is calm; we are ready to vote," Ladan Umaru, an internally displaced person (IDP) from the recently liberated town of Bama, told The Anadolu Agency at a camp in Maiduguri, Borno State's provincial capital. "Those of us who registered elsewhere in the state have designated places where we can vote," he explained. IDPs have special voting areas at the various camps set up by the government. Additional people are being transported from newly liberated towns to Maiduguri, ostensibly to vote in Saturday's poll. Nigeria's official electoral commission has said that IDPs would be able to vote in the camps, provided they were in states ravaged by the insurgency. Those in capital Abuja, or elsewhere outside the northeastern region, have not been provided for, according to electoral chief Attahiru Jega.
The Nigerian army said last week that while several towns recently captured by militants had since been liberated, there was a need to reactivate local government structures for elections to be held in these towns. "That is why the Borno government is bringing people from these towns to Maiduguri, to be able to vote," one government official, asking not to be named, told AA. Borno government spokesman Isa Gusau, for his part, said everything was being done to ensure a successful election. "At the state government level, everything is being done to ensure a hitch-free poll," he told AA. "And we're sure the security agencies are on the top of their game."
More than 56 million Nigerians, 82 percent of the country's registered voters, have already picked up their permanent voter cards, allowing them to cast ballots next week for a new president and parliament. Although 14 candidates will vie for presidency, the poll is largely seen as a race between President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler running on the ticket of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party. The APC is an amalgam of political interests that have come together in a bid to wrest power from Jonathan's PDP, which has ruled the country since its return to democracy in 1999. The election, initially scheduled for Feb. 14, was later postponed to March 28 due to the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeastern region. The Nigerian army has since rolled back many of the insurgents' earlier gains, liberating most of the local government areas earlier seized by the militants.
Muhammad Rabiu Ibrahim, who is currently in Damaturu, provincial capital of the neighboring Yobe State, said he planned to travel to the Guru local government area, where he was registered to vote. "Things have returned to normal," he told AA by phone. "Even the curfew that was between 8pm and 6am was revised to 10pm to 6am just a few days ago." "I understand that politicians were even in Gulani [formerly a Boko Haram stronghold] to campaign," he said. He added: "This shows an improvement in security. So everywhere is calm; we are looking forward to the election." Preparations have also been made for IDPs in the region to vote.
During Phase 1, at government housing quarters in Damaturu, where IDPs are being accommodated, polling stations have been set up where displaced persons can vote. The same has been done across the region, especially in Nigeria's Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Bauchi states. Adama Barkini, an IDP from Adamawa's Madagali who recently camped in Yola, said those willing to vote have had arrangements made for them. "Although many of our people say they are not voting out of sadness and the terrible memory of the losses, arrangements have been made at our camps to vote," he told AA. "We are told that all we have to do is present our permanent voters card and confirm its genuineness with the card reader by the electoral officers," said Barkini. "I am going to vote because not voting does not amount to anything," he asserted. "I am sad to be in this camp, but what can I do?" But there are fears of post-election violence in the northern region, with non-indigenous people from the south returning to their home towns ahead of the vote. "Hundreds of people from the southeast, southwest and other regions have been traveling in droves, ostensibly to escape possible election violence," Muhammadu Abdullahi, a transport union worker, told AA from Bauchi. "They are still traveling," he noted. "And it is the same thing from other northern states, especially Kano and Kaduna, which are prone to violence."
Dozens of people were killed in post-election violence across the northern region in 2011 after the electoral commission declared Jonathan the winner. The violence was believed to have been aimed at southerners by supporters of Buhari, who at the time alleged massive electoral fraud in favor of Jonathan while also condemning the violence. Authorities have announced that at least three policemen would be deployed at each of the country's almost 120,000 polling units and roughly 9,000 collation centers. Army troops, too, have been deployed across the country in bid to stem any possible violence.