Thursday, February 28, 2019

Video - President Buhari's win challenged by Nigeria’s opposition

President Muhammadu Buhari has been reelected in Saturday's polls, but his main opposition rival is calling the results "rigged". The runner-up from the People's Democratic Party Atiku Abubakar says he'll challenge the outcome in court. Nigeria's courts have tended not to favour opposition parties in the past.

Video - Opinion divided amongst Nigerians on election results

Even as president Muhammadu Buhari calls for unity - some Nigerians are celebrating Buhari's win, while others are not very happy with the results.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Video - Nigerians siphoning off oil for survival

In Nigeria, unemployment and poverty are forcing many young people to turn to crime and they are tapping into the country's rich resources of oil. Africa's largest producer of crude oil is losing millions of dollars because of theft, but some locals say the illicit way is their only means of survival.

Buhari re-elected as president of Nigeria

Nigeria's electoral commission has declared incumbent Muhammadu Buhari the winner of the country's presidential elections.

The announcement in the early hours of Wednesday means the 76-year-old has won a second four-year term at the helm of Africa's largest economy and most populous country.

Hours after Buhari was declared winner, opposition leader Atiku Abubakar rejected the results and vowed a legal challenge.

Buhari, of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, secured 56 percent, or 15.2m votes, in the February 23 polls, Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said.

His main opponent, former vice president Abubakar of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), received 41 percent or 11.3m votes.

"Muhammadu Buhari ... is hereby declared winner," Yakubu said.

Hours after the announcement, Abubakar issued a statement rejecting the results.

"It is clear that there were manifest and premeditated malpractices in many states which negate the results announced..." he said.

"I hereby reject the result of the February 23, 2019, sham election and will be challenging it in court."

The PDP has alleged electoral malpractice, including vote-rigging, in the polls, which were delayed by a week at the 11th hour.

Voting was marked by hours-long delays and deadly violence that observers said kept some people away from the polls.

Buhari's party has said the opposition was trying to discredit the returns from Saturday's election.

The accusations have ratcheted up tensions in a country whose six decades of independence have been marked by long periods of military rule, coups and secessionist wars.

'Marred by violence'

Observers from the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the United Nations appealed to all parties to await the official results, expected later this week, before filing complaints.

The candidate with the most votes nationwide is declared the winner as long as they have at least one-quarter of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states and the capital, Abuja. Otherwise, there is a second-round runoff.

Buhari, 76, secured enough votes to meet both requirements.

He took office in 2015 and sought a second term with pledges to fight corruption and overhaul Nigeria's ailing road and rail network.

Atiku, 72, had said he would aim to double the size of the economy to $900bn by 2025, privatise the state oil company, and expand the role of the private sector.

Voting took place after a week-long delay which the election commission said was due to its inability to get ballots and results sheets to all parts of the country.

The vote - Africa's largest democratic exercise - was also marred by violence with at least 47 people killed since Saturday, according to the Situation Room, a monitoring organisation linking various civil society groups.

Some deaths resulted from clashes between groups allied to the leading parties and the police over the theft of ballot boxes and allegations of vote fraud.

Police have not yet provided official casualty figures.

More than 260 people have been killed since the start of the election campaign in October.

The toll so far is lower than in earlier elections, but the worst violence occurred previously only after results were announced.

Al Jazeera

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Video - Observers advocate transparency in Nigeria's electoral process

Election observers in Nigeria say there is a great need for more transparency in the process in the country as results continue to be tallied from Saturday's vote. The delayed opening of polling centres and some problems with electronic voting machines made it difficult for many people to cast their ballots. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has confirmed incidents of ballot box destruction, voter intimidation and abduction of election officials

Video - Results trickle in Nigeria, incumbent Buhari with slight lead over Atiku

President Muhamadu Buhari has taken an early lead with 1.3 million votes. His closest challenger, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has one-point-one million votes. The result could change as more results are expected to be tallied over night. Voting was extended to Sunday in several states to allow voters who were unable to vote on the election day late delivery of polling materials.

President Buhari leads vote in Nigerian elections as apposition cries foul

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari held the edge in early election results that the main opposition party claimed were being manipulated following a vote marred by delays and at least 39 deaths.

After results from 11 of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Buhari led his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, by a 51 percent to 46 percent margin, according to data announced on Monday by the Independent National Electoral Commission in the capital, Abuja. The final vote tally is expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

With his strong support in the northwest, the region with the greatest number of registered voters, Buhari’s prospects of winning re-election are bright, said Max Siollun, a Nigerian historian based in New York.

“The results so far will give Buhari and his supporters great confidence -- it will take a tectonic shift in result patterns for Atiku to win,” he said in an emailed response to questions. “If the north-western results as expected show heavy voting there for Buhari, then a Buhari victory will be a near certainty.”

The presidential and parliamentary election in Africa’s top oil producer was the continent’s biggest-ever democratic exercise. Almost 73 million people were eligible to vote Saturday in what analysts thought would be a tight race mainly between Buhari, an ex-general who campaigned on an anti-graft platform, and Abubakar, a 72-year-old businessman and former vice president.

The chairman of Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party, Uche Secondus, accused the government of using “inducements, manipulation and incarcerations” and enlisting the police and national army “to silence the voices of our long suffering people.” In a statement, he threatened to challenge some results.

Buhari’s All Progressives Congress rejected the claims in a statement, accusing the PDP of trying to “discredit and destabilize” the electoral process.

The election pitted two men of contrasting economic views, with Buhari, who favors a strong government role, against Abubakar, a pro-market multimillionaire who has said he would float the national currency and sell stakes in the state oil company.

Wall Street banks such as Citigroup Inc. had said Nigerian equities and bonds will probably rally if Abubakar wins. The stock market closed up 0.6 percent in Lagos on Monday to extend its gains this year to 4 percent.

Election Day Fatalities

At least 39 people were killed in election-related violence, Clement Nwankwo, the chairman of Situation Room, a monitoring group, told reporters Monday in Abuja. The inspector general of police, who didn’t give a death toll, said 128 people were arrested for offenses such as homicide and snatching of ballot boxes. INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu said an election worker was killed by a stray bullet in Rivers state.
“Serious operational shortcomings placed undue burden on voters,” the European Union observer mission said, while the African Union called the vote “largely peaceful and orderly.”

To win, a candidate must get the majority of votes and at least 25 percent in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and Federal Capital Territory. Otherwise, there’ll be a second round.

While Buhari was likely to win in the north, Abubakar was expected to dominate in the south-east and south-south, two of Nigeria’s six so-called geopolitical zones, where Buhari has long been unpopular. The south-west, which includes the commercial capital of Lagos, and the north-central zones were potential swing areas.

Abubakar’s PDP suffered an early blow when one of its highest-profile politicians, Senate President Bukola Saraki, lost his seat in the southwestern state of Kwara to the candidate from Buhari’s APC, according to INEC results.

“Whilst the environment was tense and divisive, overall, fundamental freedoms of association, expression, assembly and movement were generally respected,” the chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Group, former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, told reporters in Abuja.

Both Buhari and Abubakar are northern Muslims in a country split roughly evenly between a Christian south and Islamic north.

Buhari ruled the country briefly as a dictator in the 1980s and morphed into a civilian politician who won on his fourth try for the presidency in 2015. Abubakar, who was vice president between 1999 and 2007, has business interests ranging from oil and gas services to food manufacturing and a private university.

Buhari and his APC have faced sharp criticism for their handling of the economy. The president imposed capital controls as the naira currency came under pressure amid plunging revenue from oil, the country’s main export, and foreign investors fled. After a contraction in 2016, the economy expanded 1.9 percent last year, the fastest since Buhari’s election.

Yet Nigeria now has more extremely poor people, 87 million, than any other nation, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. The United Nations expects its population to double to 410 million by 2050, overtaking everywhere bar India and China.

Buhari’s supporters paint him as an honest politician who provides a sharp counterpart to the PDP that governed Nigeria for 16 years from the end of military rule in 1999.

Buhari’s suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, accused of falsely declaring his assets, just weeks before the presidential election, was criticized by the legal community, the U.S. and the European Union, because the vote results may be contested in the Supreme Court.

Abubakar portrays himself as someone who knows how to get things done and his pro-market policies have won some favor among investors. While he’s faced allegations of corruption, he denies any wrongdoing and has never been indicted at home or abroad.

By Solape Renner, Anthony Osae-Brown, and Paul Wallace


Monday, February 25, 2019

Video - Votes being counted in Nigeria's delayed vote

Vote-counting is under way in Nigeria after Saturday's presidential election. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second term, in what's thought to be a tight race with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The electoral commission extended voting hours in some places where polling stations opened late and ballot machines malfunctioned. Now, many Nigerians are watching election officials closely to make sure there is no vote-rigging. Emotions remain high and there are fears that a disputed result could lead to violence.

Dozens killed in election violence in Nigeria

As many as 39 people have died in election-related violence in Nigeria, as the country awaits the results of this weekend's voting in what is forecast to be its tightest poll since the end of military rule in 1999.

Current President Muhummadu Buhari, 76, a former military ruler is seeking a second term on an anti-corruption platform.

He faces off against businessman Atiku Abubakar, 72, a former vice president who has promised to expand the role of the private sector.

The election was held on Saturday, but violence and problems with electronic voting machines meant voting continued in a small number of places before polls closed on Sunday.

The ballot was initially due to take place last week, but was postponed just hours before it was due to begin, with the authorities citing logistics.

Nigeria's 73 million eligible voters chose from a pool of more than 70 presidential candidates, although only those from the two main parties — Mr Buhari and Mr Abubakar — are seen as having a chance.

The President last year publicly denied social media claims he died and was replaced by a Sudanese clone, and also courted international controversy in the past by suggesting his wife "belongs in the kitchen".

The Situation Room — which represents more than 70 civil society groups — gave Sunday's figure of 39 deaths, citing data from Lagos-based consultancy SBM Intelligence.

In one incident, seven people were killed in a shootout between Nigerian army troops and a gang.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said an electoral official had been shot dead by unknown people.

The president's office declined to comment, while the opposition candidate Mr Abubakar condemned the violence in a statement.

The number of deaths reported by Sunday was below the final death tolls in previous elections in Africa's most populous country, but in the past most unrest has taken place after results were announced.

What's at stake?

A credible and relatively calm poll would open a new chapter in the chequered political history of Nigeria, where nearly six decades of independence have been tarnished by military coups, endemic corruption and secessionist movements.

"From Tuesday onwards we should have a substantial number of results," said Festus Okoye, an election commission official.

The contest between Mr Buhari and Mr Abubakar, commonly called "Atiku", hinges on revamping an economy struggling to recover from its first recession in 25 years, which it slipped into in 2016 and emerged from in 2017.

Nearly a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, while the cost of living has also risen rapidly.

Mr Buhari has focused his campaign on rooting out corruption, but critics say there have not been any significant convictions in his first term.

Mr Abubakar has said he would aim to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025.


Friday, February 22, 2019

Video - Curbing fake news during elections in Nigeria

In the run up to the Nigerian elections, the country has witnessed instances of fake news aimed at tarnishing the names of candidates, parties or even INEC. Negative use of social media has largely propagated the spread of fake news in Nigeria. But how can Nigerians tackle this?

Video - Campaigns close at midnight as Nigeria gears up for national poll

Campaign activities in Nigeria are expected to end at 12 midnight local time on Thursday. Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission set the extended deadline after elections due last weekend were postponed. Rescheduled polls are due to take place on Saturday, February 23rd.

Dozens killed in clashes between villagers and 'bandits' in Nigeria

At least 59 "bandits" were killed by a civilian defence force when they attacked a village in northwest Nigeria, security officials and locals said.

Local reports said the death toll could be even higher, after a local government official said 15 other bandits were killed in the nearby village of Danmarke, the AFP news agency reported on Thursday.

"We killed 59 of the bandits and we lost seven men in the fight, which lasted for almost four hours," Bube Shehu, a resident of Danjibga village in Zamfara state, said of the clashes on Wednesday.

Shehu's account was backed by a military officer in the state but there was no immediate corroboration from police.

The worsening security situation in the northwest, President Muhammadu Buhari's strongest regional support base, is one of a number of challenges to his re-election, as voters go to the polls on Saturday.

Farming and herding communities in the region have suffered increasing attacks from criminal gangs who raid villages, steal cattle and kidnap for ransom.

The local official in Danmarke said villagers were frustrated at the lack of protection from security forces and had been forced to take matters into their own hands.

"It is high time people stand up against criminals who attack their villages instead of succumbing to them," he said on condition of anonymity.

Danjibga is a commercial hub 35km south of the state capital Gusau and has been repeatedly attacked.

Threat to security

The attacks have led to a mass exodus of residents to the town of Tsafe, and even across into Buhari's home state of Katsina, which neighbours Zamfara.

Earlier this month bandits killed 26 people when they raided seven villages in the Mada district, according to police.

Last July, Amnesty International said Zamfara state was "at the mercy" of armed bandits who had killed at least 371 people in the first six months of 2018.

In December, an influential traditional chief in the state urged authorities to allow vigilantes to carry assault rifles to defend themselves against bandits.

Last month, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said bandits were mobilised to carry out attacks and "provoke massive chaos before, during and after the elections".

Security is an election issue given Buhari's pledge in 2015 to improve safety across the country, not least end Boko Haram's armed campaign.

Al Jazeera

Nigeria rallies disillusioned voters after postponed elections

Nigerian politicians and businesses have begun introducing measures to encourage people to vote in this weekend's rescheduled presidential and parliamentary elections.

The country's electoral commission delayed the vote just five hours before polls were due to open across Nigeria last Saturday, citing "logistical reasons."

Nigerians can only cast their ballots at polling units in the area where they initially registered, and as a result, there have been concerns over low voter turnout because people who traveled last week may be unwilling (or able to afford) to make another trip to their polling unit after a wasted journey last week.

The Nigerian government has declared the eve of the elections a public holiday, with the exception of bankers and essential service providers.

The holiday is to enable citizens prepare for the election, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement Wednesday, according to local media reports.

"The work-free day is to enable citizens return to their polling units for the rescheduled Presidential and National Assembly elections," the statement read.

Reno Omokri, an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan and a stalwart of the main opposition party, People's Democratic Party (PDP), said he is offering free transportation to Nigerians in buses called "Buses for Democracy."

The buses will ferry Nigerians to their various destinations regardless of their political affiliations, Omokri said in Twitter post.

There have been additional reports of efforts made to help in the effort to rally voters ahead of the polls.

Two local airlines have offered discounts to voters to boost turnout at the polls.

Arik Air, a domestic carrier to several destinations around the country, introduced a "Fly to Vote" promotion with one-way tickets pegged at N16,000 (about $45).

The airline says the initiative is to encourage people to vote in Saturday's elections and the state elections scheduled for March 9.

Aero Contractors is offering a similar reduction in flight tickets on all its routes across the country.
Reuters news agency also reported that fuel suppliers would cut the price of petrol, quoting the country's Information Minister, Lai Mohammed.

However, local media reports say the various stakeholders involved in reducing fuel prices have yet to make such decision or indicate they are willing to.

CNN was not immediately able to reach Mohammed for a comment to clarify.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, 76, is standing for re-election and will be running against 71 other candidates for the country's highest office.

His main challenger is Atiku Abubakar, 72, a business tycoon and former vice president.

By Aanu Adeoye


Is Nigeria now prepared for 2019 elections

Last Saturday, 16 February, elections in Nigeria were halted just hours before polling had been due to get under way.

It was a huge inconvenience for millions of Nigerians, many of whom had traveled long distances to vote.

The poll will now be held a week later, on Saturday, 23 February.

With the extra time to prepare, are things now in place for the vote?

Why was the poll postponed?

Both the main parties, the governing All Peoples Congress (APC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP), condemned the delay and blamed each other for meddling in the elections.

This isn't the first time voters in Nigeria have been left in the lurch. It happened in the two previous presidential elections, in 2011 and 2015, and has led many to question the competence of the organising body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec).

This time the commission cited various reasons for the delay:

. delays in delivering election materials and deploying staff
. poor weather conditions 
. unresolved candidate registration issues
. the destruction of election materials and suspected sabotage

Some of the issues cited are not within the powers of the electoral commission to control, such as the unpredictable nature of Nigeria's weather.

But there are clearly other logistical factors that do need to be addressed if the election is to proceed smoothly.

Voter registration problems

Each of the 84 millions registered voters in Nigeria is required to bring a Permanent Voting Card (PVC), which is then verified at the polling station using a smart card reader.

However, many potential voters haven't got PVCs - and the electoral commission itself says 11 million of the cards printed haven't been collected.

That's a big shortfall and won't be rectified by polling day - meaning millions of registered voters won't be able to cast ballots.

Reprogramming card readers

Then there are the machines used to verify voters - 180,000 smart card readers have been deployed to polling stations across the country.

All these machines were initially programmed to work on the originally planned voting day only, so they have all needed to be reprogrammed.

Inec says this process has been completed and the machines are ready for use.

It also says it has made up for 4,600 smart card readers destroyed in a fire in Anambra State, by redistributing devices from other states - although that may leave fewer back-up machines for polling stations in other regions.

Keeping voting materials safe

Organising elections in Nigeria is a huge logistical challenge.

It's a large country, with an estimated 200 million people, and many regions lack proper roads and infrastructure.

The electoral commission says ballot papers and election staff will be in place across the country.

Sensitive election materials such as ballot papers and result sheets are being held in local central banks, Inec has told BBC News.

However, reports from local media have highlighted further logistical mishaps and the destruction of election materials and resources.

Some election material has even been found in the wrong states.

Security challenges

Election officials are working with security forces to prevent disruption to the election.

Inec maintains voting will take place in all 774 local government areas.

And international election observers say it has been moving in the right direction..

"I think Inec have definitely picked up their game," says John Tomaszewski, the International Republican Institute's regional director for Africa.

But some concerns around security remain, especially over:

. Islamist insurgency in the North East

. herder-farmer clashes in the Middle Belt

. various threats from bandits and criminal gangs in northern regions and oil-producing states in the South

In Borno State, in north-eastern Nigeria, the state most affected by Boko Haram Islamist militants, eight local government areas have prepared satellite polling stations in camps for internally displaced people.

But last week, in the run-up to the originally planned election day, Boko Haram coordinated a series of attacks and suicide bombings on military bases and a neighbourhood in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri.

And Idayat Hassan, from Abuja-based think tank the Centre for Democracy and Development, says: "The likelihood of Boko Haram attacking during the elections is high - the insurgents have consistently express aversion towards democracy and elections."

Meanwhile, in other states, such as Zamfara, in northern-most Nigeria, kidnappings, killings and general lawlessness are also raising voters' fears.

By Christopher Giles and Peter Mwai


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Video - Is democracy the answer to Nigeria's woes?

Millions of Nigerians finally get to vote for a new leader on Saturday after the election was postponed by a week. Whoever wins will have to address at least three pressing issues, the sluggish economy, security problems and corruption. It's expected to be a tight race between President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking a second term, and Atiku Abubakar the main opposition candidate. Buhari has promised to fight corruption but his opponents have focused on what they say has been his failure to fix the economy. The main contenders made their final appeal for votes on the last day of campaigning on Thursday. So, will elections make any difference?

Video - Nigeria's young voters under spotlight as elections near

It is the battle for the youth's vote in Nigeria. Young Nigerians make up the biggest voting bloc in the pivotal presidential and National Assembly elections, which begin on Saturday.

Video - Foreign envoys warned against meddling in rescheduled polls

Meanwhile, Nigeria's Foreign Affairs minister has warned international envoys against interfering in the re-scheduled elections. Geoffrey Onyeama was briefing diplomats ahead of Saturdays polls, in which Nigerians will vote for their next president, and law makers.

Video - Campaigning resumes ahead of Saturday elections in Nigeria

Well, Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission, has assured citizens and the international community that the election on Saturday will be smooth. Political parties have also been allowed to resume campaigns in the remaining days, as stipulated by the electoral act.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Video - Will voters punish Buhari for not tackling Nigeria's oil spills?

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari came to power with a promise to clean up the Niger Delta. But as he seeks re-election, it is still a mess of oil spills, causing sickness in surrounding villages and destroying people's livelihoods.

Video - Media outlets seek to retain objectivity after polls postponement in Nigeria

It's been a hectic week for Nigeria's media. Carefully laid out plans to cover elections in Africa's largest democracy were scuttled at the eleventh hour after polls were postponed by a week. And while some of the coverage has come into sharp focus for its objectivity or lack of it, the media has made huge strides in recent years.

Video - Businesses suffer as voters stay in rural homes for Saturday polls in Nigeria

Still in Nigeria...Businesses in major cities are making steep loses, as most Nigerians retreat to rural areas to vote in the Saturday election. Most businesses closed shop over the weekend. But the few that opened struggled to get customers.

Video - Female candidates seek victory in the re-scheduled elections in Nigeria

In Nigeria, dozens of first-time female candidates are seeking victory in the re-scheduled election. The women have gone as far as creating a Whatsapp group where they are urging and encouraging each other to stay focused. The country's percentage of women in parliament is one of the lowest in the world. But this group of female politicians are eager to prove that they can make equally good leaders.

Citizens of Nigeria lament election delay and the costs

Okiti Erhovwo, a physiologist and relationship coach, planned his wedding for March 9 after considering the scheduled dates of the general elections.

The presidential and legislative elections were to take place on February 16 and the state governorship on March 2.

But the postponement announced on Saturday of the governorship election to March 9 has forced him to cancel his marriage ceremony.

"It's disheartening, to say, the least that after making preparations and putting logistics in a place for our wedding ... elections have been postponed to the same wedding date. It's devastating. So sad," Erhovwo told Al Jazeera.

Besides dealing with the disappointment, he now has to make new arrangements to marry his fiance, Eminence Agbechoma, who took the announcement even harder.

"There's no one that would be excited at such sudden news. She felt sad, the family felt sad. But our hope is that God will do that which he, God, has set out to do and he that started this good work would surely complete it," Erhovwo said.

Economic impact

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the postponement of polls early Saturday following an emergency meeting in the capital, Abuja.

INEC said it needed more time to ensure a free and fair vote.

Many Nigerians who stayed up late to follow proceedings were angered by the decision.

Social media has become a platform to complain about the economic implications of the vote delay by a week.

Voters can only cast their ballots in places where they are registered by INEC, or they must seek a transfer to their preferred voting centres.

Some Nigerians travelled hundreds of kilometres to vote and the postponement - just a few hours prior to the opening of the polls - has left some stranded.

Despite the inconvenience, some Nigerians are willing to pay the travel costs again.

"For us, this election is very crucial and people want to demonstrate their faith in democracy by participating in deciding their future," businessman Pascal Metuh told Al Jazeera.

Some businesses and offices are still shut.

"This is a loss of business to the economy, which is not good news for economic performance," economist Aliyu Audu told Al Jazeera.

"The effects will be felt in the short term by businesses' loss of revenue until the economy picks up after the election," Audu said.

'Grave implications'

Some who had to reschedule their plans are also worried about extra costs incurred by the delay.

"It's certainly going to have a grave economic implication considering the fact that initial logistics that have been made took swell sums of money," lamented Erhovwo, the husband-to-be.

"And due to the sudden election postponement - which coincided with the wedding date - money has to be made available again for those logistics in preparation for a new date."

Nigerians are never quick to demand any form of compensation from the government when policy changes cause them financial losses.

This time is no different.

"I wouldn't consider any form of compensation from INEC because this thing is not just about money. A whole lot has been invested into the planning. Would they also compensate for the mental resources and time that went into the planning? Of course not," Erhovwo said.

The ruling All Progressives Congress and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party have both criticised the delay.

By Fidelis Mbah

Al Jazeera

Technology makes it harder to rig elections in Nigeria

In 2007, Musa Yar’Adua was elected president of Nigeria in an election so flawed, one of his major actions as president was pushing for electoral reforms.

To his credit, due to progress made since, an election like that of 2007 (described as “a charade” by election observers) is unlikely today. And a major reason is INEC, Nigeria’s electoral commission, has embraced technology. While Nigeria’s elections are by no means fully electronic, the use of permanent voter cards (PVC) verified by electronic card readers to accredit voters has proven a major leap.

Under the current system, voters show up at polling units and have their PVC verified by card readers before being allowed to vote. The two-step authentication eliminates the dual problems of impersonation and multiple voting—previously rampant rigging tactics. It’s a major shift from the past when only paperwork (which could easily be faked) was enough to allow voters cast a ballot.

“The smart card readers and PVCs were a very important innovation that really enhanced the credibility of the elections,” says Richard Klein, senior adviser for elections at the National Democratic Institute (NDI). As Quartz Africa has reported, improvements in making elections more secure have forced politicians to rethink their campaign tactics to reach and convince voters directly.

INEC, which is going through its latest credibility test after delaying the presidential election by a week with a few hours to the polls opening on Feb. 16, has taken steps to protect its current set-up. This includes programming the card readers to work only at specific locations and during specific time frames on election day, which will now be Saturday Feb. 23.

To reduce the likelihood of a hack, the card readers are also programmed to only transmit data without receiving any during the polls. The commission has also proven proactive in solving any card reader-related problems. Eyitemi Egbejule, a cyber-security consultant, who worked on card reader tests as a third party consultant before they debuted in the 2015 election says INEC fixed all identified security issues before the elections. The commission has since upgraded the system ahead of this year’s elections.

Lingering problems

Despite major progress, INEC’s processes remain far from perfect. The commission’s technology could ultimately be undermined by its people if electoral officials abandon the card readers on election day as a result of intimidation by party agents or in a bid to speed up voting, Klein says. It’s a red flag that election observers will keenly watch out for.

The process of collation of results, still done manually, is also a weakness along the value chain and is susceptible to manipulation, Klein adds. There are also transparency concerns under INEC’s current system as it has not yet announced the total number of collected PVCs, despite calls from civic society groups to do so.

Political parties and actors in Nigeria are still trying to game the system too: vote buying tactics—offering money or food as inducements for votes on election day—have become more brazen. One Lagos taxi driver, who asked not be named, described how he was been offered a 1,000 naira (~$3) mobile phone card to get his vote, during the last presidential election. Then there’s also the fear of possible voter suppression and intimidation by party agents in their opponents’ strongholds.

The postponement of elections also shows INEC remains unable to solve its long-running logistical problems. But observers believe there’s a silver lining: INEC’s deliberate choice to distribute voting materials at the last possible moment is seen as part of its commitment to secure the elections.

But even though the lingering problems remain, Klein, a veteran observer of national polls in Nigeria since 2003, insists elections “are much better today.” As he puts it, the question isn’t so much as to whether Nigeria has a good electoral system, it’s whether the procedures that secure the elections will actually be followed on election day.

by Yomi Kazeem


Who benefits from postponement of elections in Nigeria

Nigeria is to hold a delayed presidential election this Saturday after the initial vote was rescheduled in a dramatic overnight press conference, five hours before polls were due to have opened.

The last-minute cancellation surprised the country and inconvenienced thousands of Nigerians who had travelled a long way to cast their votes. It has also cost the economy $1.5bn (£1.15bn), according to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) has given several reasons for the delay, including attempted sabotage and logistical issues such as bad weather and problems with delivering the ballot papers.

The governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and its main challenger, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), have both condemned the postponement and accused each other of trying to manipulate the vote.

So does the delay favour anyone?

In a statement issued on the day of the postponement, the APC alleged the PDP wanted to halt the momentum of its candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari. The PDP, whose presidential contender is Atiku Abubakar, on the other hand said Inec had delayed the election to create "the space to perfect their rigging plans".

According to Idayat Hassan, from Abuja-based think tank, the Centre for Democracy and Development, the week-long extension is too brief to have a significant influence on the result of the presidential vote.

She compares the latest postponement to the one in 2015, when the PDP - in government at the time - pushed the election back by six weeks, blaming the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east. That postponement, she says, ended up favouring the APC because it cast the PDP in a negative light - as a party that would pursue "power at all costs".

She believes this year's delay could slightly benefit the APC as it would increase voter apathy in most areas except those with historically high turnouts - "the north-west and the north-east... both strongholds of President Muhammadu Buhari".

Other analysts say the postponement is likely to harm both parties equally, as their supporters who had travelled home to vote last week will be unable to make another journey this weekend.

Another view holds that the delay will harm Mr Buhari's chances, as the electoral commission's un-readiness reflects poorly on him. The commission's chief, Mahmood Yakubu, was appointed by Mr Buhari in 2015.

Will the election definitely take place this Saturday?

Inec says there will be no further delays, but some observers have questioned whether the elections will go ahead on 23 February. Festus Mogae, a former president of Botswana, told the BBC's Newsday programme that he was doubtful that all the preparations would be completed.

"It's a great deal of work yet to be done," the head of the international election observation mission said.

"I don't know whether that can be managed or not, I am not in a position to judge but it makes me apprehensive."

And the former vice-president of The Gambia, Fatoumata Tambajang, said she too had doubts about whether Inec could meet its new deadline.

"One has to be realistic given the enormity of the activities that are supposed to be taken care of," she said.

As well as overcoming logistical hurdles, she said popular enthusiasm for the electoral process would have to be restored to where it was until last week's cancellation.

What does the election commission say?

For Inec, keeping to the new date is central to maintaining the public's trust. Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the resident electoral commissioner for the capital, Abuja, told the BBC there would be "pandemonium" if election materials were not deployed in time.

"People will just think that Inec has hidden them deliberately, so we can dock some of the results," he said.

The business community has also stressed the importance of avoiding further delays, with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry warning that economic activity would not pick up until the election had been held.

What happens next?

The first task is to reconfigure some 180,000 card readers that are being used to validate voters' identity cards and check their biometric details. The dates on the readers need to be changed to the new election date.

In a statement, Inec said this process would take five to six days, and is due to be completed by Thursday 21 February.

Some sensitive election materials, including ballot papers, have been returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria for safekeeping. These are scheduled to be deployed around the country by Friday 22 February, at the latest.

Election staff, including an estimated one million so-called ad-hoc staff, will also be travelling then. It is unclear what happened to the staff and volunteers, including members of the country's youth corps, that had already been deployed last Friday.

By law, all campaigning must end 24 hours before polling stations open. After initially saying that the ban imposed last week would remain in force, Inec went back on its decision on Monday, allowing political parties to resume campaigning this week.

By Mayeni Jones


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Displaced children in Nigeria learn coding at mobile laboratory

Nigeria's internal conflicts have displaced nearly 2 million people, according to the United Nations, with 60 percent of them being children. A program in the Nigerian capital is trying to teach internally displaced children technology skills, including computer coding, with a mobile laboratory.

Twelve-year-old Michael Oladimeji fled with his family from Nigeria’s Borno State two years ago to escape Boko Haram terrorist attacks.

Over 10,000 people are living in camps in Abuja struggling for food, water, health care and education.

But Oladimeji was lucky - he became one of 100 students his age learning computer coding and animation at a mobile laboratory. The tech curriculum includes writing code with a program known as Scratch.

"At home I used to play with my daddy's phone but it's not enough for me to do my coding and to do my Scratch. So since we started this program, I've got the chance to do Scratch and make cartoons,” Oladimeji said.

Children like Oladimeji make up the majority of Nigeria's 1.8 million displaced people.

But Nigeria's Civic Innovation Lab – a technology hub - runs the initiative, which is shaping children's futures, according to program facilitator Angu Kingsley.

"Judging from where they came from, they have little knowledge about computers and education generally. So what we're trying to do is improve on what they already have, the knowledge they already have and build on it,” Kingsley said.

While only a hundred or so displaced kids have benefited so far, the project hopes to expand – if it can secure funding, says program head Fanto Foday.

"We only have few tablets and few computers so we've been having difficulties in the areas of giving assignment because when we leave we have to take the equipment, although the truck is there, they have access to the lab but they don't really have access to the gadgets,” Foday said.

But for conflict-displaced students like Oladimeji, the chance to learn computer coding could be a game-changer.


President Buhari vows to deal with vote riggers in Nigeria

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari says he has ordered the police and military to be "ruthless" with vote-riggers, following the last-minute postponement of the general election.

Critics said his comments condoned "jungle justice".

The incumbent president also called the electoral commission incompetent and ordered an investigation into why the vote was delayed.

Election officials cited "logistical" reasons for the postponement.

Mr Buhari made the comments at an emergency meeting of his All Progressives Congress party (APC) in the capital, Abuja.

"Anybody who decides to snatch [ballot] boxes or use thugs to disturb it [the vote] - maybe this will be the last unlawful action he will take," he said.

He went on to say that anybody who tried to interfere with the election would do so "at the expense of his life".

'Licence to kill'

Nigeria's main opposition party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), said it was a "direct call for jungle justice".

"It is indeed a licence to kill, which should not come from any leader of any civilised nation," said PDP party spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan.

Mr Buhari also hit out at the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec).

In his speech to senior party members about the postponement, Mr Buhari said questions needed to be answered about "why such incompetence manifested itself" and promised an investigation.

Inec postponed the election just over five hours before polling stations were due to open on Saturday morning.

They said this was because of problems with transporting ballot papers to some parts of the country.

The presidential and parliamentary polls will now be held on Saturday 23 February.

Governorship, state assembly and federal area council elections have been rescheduled until Saturday 9 March.

Doubts about the new date

However, election observers have told the BBC's Newsday programme that they were not 100% sure the elections would go ahead on Saturday

Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana, said he was "apprehensive" that all the work that needs to be done, including auditing ballot boxes, will be done in time.

Another international observer, former Vice-President of The Gambia Fatoumata Tambajang, said "it's in doubt because one has to be realistic given the enormity of the activities that are supposed to be taken care of".

Despite these doubts, election commissioner Festus Okoye told the BBC that the commission had ruled out further delays, insisting "there is no challenge any more".

Under the electoral law, campaigning was halted 24 before the election was due to start and the electoral commission said it would remain suspended until polling day on Saturday.

However, the two main parties have said they intended to resume their campaigns.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Video - Residents urged to turn up and vote in the re-scheduled elections

Towns and cities across Nigeria are slowly coming back to life as Nigerians prepare for the working week ahead of the re-scheduled polls. But there are concerns that there will be a low voter turnout. Political parties are, however, urging their supporters to turn up in large numbers and vote on February the 23rd.

Video - INEC appeals to voters to trust its ability to conduct polls in Nigeria

Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission is appealing to voters to trust in its ability to conduct a free, fair and credible election. After an extensive meeting with stake-holders in the nation's capital Abuja, the commission clarified its decision to postpone the general elections by one week.

Video - Religious unrest key concern in run-up to Nigeria election

Religious violence between Christians and Muslims is also a concern ahead of Saturday's vote in Nigeria. Officials in the northwest have discovered the bodies of 66 people killed by what they are calling "criminal elements". The remains of 22 children were among those found in eight villages in the Kajuru area of Kaduna state. Security forces say they have already made some arrests.

Video - Nigeria elections delayed by transport problems

Fires, possible sabotage and logistical challenges are being blamed for Nigeria's election being pushed back. A last-minute decision to postpone the ballot by one week caught everyone, from voters to candidates, off guard. The Electoral Commission says many states simply were not ready to hold the election, and more time was needed to ensure the elections were free, fair and credible.

Video - Disappointment and anger over elections delay in Nigeria

The postponement of elections in Nigeria has been a major inconvenience for millions of voters, especially those who have taken long and expensive journeys to cast their ballots. On Saturday, the election commission decided to delay polls for a week, saying it needs more time to ensure a free and fair vote. But there are concerns that the decision could lead to a low turnout.

Video - Economic fears mount over Nigeria election delay

Some of Nigeria's leading presidential candidates have condemned the decision to postpone elections by a week. Many have blamed each other for the delay, announced by the election commission hours before polls were due to open. There is also growing concern about the economic effect.

Video - Gunmen kill 66 in Nigeria

There's a twist to the story of an attack that reportedly claimed over 60 lives in some communities in Kaduna State, in the northwest of the country. Authorities said 66 people were killed by unknown gunmen in Kajuru on Friday night. Among the dead were 22 women and 12 children. But some of the residents are telling a different story.

Stocks fall due to last minute delay elections in Nigeria

Nigerian stocks fell the most in more than five months and bond yields rose after Africa’s biggest oil producer delayed last weekend’s presidential and parliamentary election at the last minute.

The one-week postponement, just a few hours before voting was scheduled to start on Saturday morning, rattled investors and led to accusations from both President Muhammadu Buhari’s party and the opposition, led by Atiku Abubakar, of skulduggery against one another.

Nigeria’s stock benchmark dropped 2.5 percent by 1.30 p.m. in Lagos, the commercial capital, the most among major indexes globally and its biggest fall since Sept. 12. Dangote Cement Plc, owned by billionaire Aliko Dangote and the largest company on the bourse, lost 3.6 percent. Yields on the government’s $1.5 billion Eurobond maturing in November 2027 rose 7 basis points to 7.19 percent. Nigerian assets had rallied since the end of January on the expectation of a smooth election.

“It’s sent a very negative signal,” Ayodeji Ebo, managing director at Afrinvest West Africa Ltd. in Lagos, said by phone. “Some investors are trying to reduce their positions.”

The Independent National Electoral Commission’s delay marked the third consecutive time that Nigeria has postponed a nationwide vote. A week before the 2015 ballot, it was moved back by more than a month. Buhari went on to win and become the first opposition candidate to take power in Africa’s biggest oil producer.

As well as pushing back the presidential and parliamentary vote to Feb. 23, INEC delayed governorship elections for a week until March 9.

The chairman of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, said INEC had colluded with the Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party over the delay.

The election body “is working with anti-democratic forces,” he told reporters in Abuja, the capital, at a press conference. “INEC’s leadership knew they were going to postpone and shared this information with the People’s Democratic Party not to waste their money, while telling us everything was well.”

An INEC spokesman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, denied any party had been informed in advance.

Former general Buhari, 76, said at the same press conference that he didn’t know about the delay in advance and that INEC had to explain its “incompetence.”
Logistical Problems

Abubakar, a 72-year-old businessman and ex-vice president, said there was a plot by the government to rig the election by stifling voter turnout in areas where he needs big majorities to win.

An INEC spokesman didn’t immediately respond to the comments by Buhari and Oshiomhole. But its chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, said Sunday the delay was because of logistical problems and had nothing to do with political interference or security concerns.

Election officials and members of the national youth corps were left stranded across the country. Many Nigerians had traveled to their hometowns to vote and won’t be able to afford a trip for a second weekend running.

“I can’t stay here till next Saturday just to vote and I can’t return here again next week just to vote,” Onyeka Ikoro, a 45-year-old electronics dealer who traveled from Lagos to his hometown of Ohafia in Abia State. “Atiku and Obi will lose my vote. It doesn’t make me happy but what can I do?”

Nigerian assets may recover later in the week if investors think the delay won’t be repeated or lead to violence, according to Aderonke Akinsola, an analyst at Chapel Hill Denham, an investment bank in Lagos.

“The personal costs will be high,” Andrew Alli, former chief executive officer of Lagos-based African Finance Corp., said in an emailed response to questions. “But as long as it doesn’t portend some major election dispute after the voting, I don’t think the ultimate effect will be that major.”

By Solape Renner, Emele Onu, and Paul Wallace

With assistance by Tope Alake 


Friday, February 15, 2019

Video - Why aren't more women in politics in Nigeria?

Nigeria is Africa’s largest democracy but has one of the lowest percentages of female political representation on the continent. Women make up less than 6 percent of the country’s parliament, according to the International Parliamentary Union, and no Nigerian woman has ever been elected president, vice president or governor.

Women aspiring to become politicians often encounter a lack of support from a society that is conservative and patriarchal. Some have even experienced gender-based election harassment and violence.

Out of more than 70 candidates, six women ran for president this year. The most well-known female candidate, Oby Ezekwesili - a former education minister and Bring Back Our Girls campaign co-founder - withdrew from the race last month to support an opposition coalition.

What should be done to increase women's participation in government, and to what extent is gender equality an issue in this year’s election? In this episode, we’ll learn about the experiences of Nigerian women trying to make it in politics and hear their views on the country’s upcoming election.

Video - Nigeria's frustrated youth call for progress ahead of election

The youth vote is likely to play a major part in Nigeria's presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday. Jobs are increasingly scarce and the cost of living is rising, leading to frustration among this younger generation. Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa met young people in the capital Abuja, who are hoping for change.

Video - Importance of peace accord ahead of elections in Nigeria

Ahead of Nigeria's presidential election scheduled for Saturday 16th February, the two main candidates Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar signed a peace accord on Wednesday. They both pledged to accept the result of the poll as announced by INEC, and to be ambassadors of peace in the country.

But just how important is the accord to Nigerians?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The spread of fake news in Nigerian elections

The campaign to elect Nigeria's next president is drawing to a close with accusations flying over the abuse of social media to spread misleading information.

Both of the main political parties have told BBC Reality Check their rivals are involved in the spread of disinformation.

The incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and his main rival, Atiku Abubakar, running for the People's Democratic Party (PDP), have both been the target of videos containing dubious or inaccurate information, being shared online.

Accusations flying in both directions

"There has been some efforts by the PDP campaign to push disinformation," says Tolu Ogunlesi, head of digital communications for President Buhari.

Both parties deny any knowledge of people inside the party spreading disinformation.

"The APC is predicated on propaganda - they have manipulated pictures and words," says Paul Ibe, a media adviser to Mr Abubakar.

The APC denies the accusations and attacks the PDP for spreading lies.

"Political parties support and encourage the dissemination of divisive 'fake news' on their behalf but have little control over its development and spread," according to Jonathan Fisher, who is overseeing a project looking at the role of WhatsApp in Nigeria's elections.

Written posts, photos and videos have been shared on social media platforms, publicly on Facebook and in private WhatsApp groups, spreading unsubstantiated rumours about the candidates.

One of the most prominent is that a double is standing in for President Buhari at public events, which he has repeatedly and firmly denied.

Here is a round-up from Reality Check of some of the false rumours and misleading information spread against the two men vying to become Nigeria's next president.

Missing Dapchi girl

One example of disinformation, which started to appear on social media a few days ago, has been about Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old held captive for nearly a year by Islamist militants Boko Haram for refusing to convert to Islam.

More than 100 girls were kidnapped from the village of Dapchi, in northern Nigeria, and all but one have now been released.

The messages and posts, spread on WhatsApp and Facebook, claimed that Leah had died - and they quickly went viral.

An anonymous "family source" had confirmed the death of the girl, according to social media posts.

In response, a government minister called the story "absolute fake news" and Mr Ogunlesi, from Mr Buhari's campaign, says the story was used to deliberately target the government.

Free cash?

The accusation here is that opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar was behind a ploy to hand out cash and food boxes at a political rally.

This story was shared online by an aide to President Buhari, who posted a photo of boxes wrapped together with Nigerian currency notes in the northern state of Sokoto.

"Keep them in poverty, then give them handouts - Atiku in Sokoto yesterday," she wrote.

The Buhari campaign denies spreading any disinformation.

However, the photo is two years old and was taken at an event organised by the Kokun Foundation, which campaigns against hunger.

A media adviser for the Atiku campaign told BBC Reality Check: "Atiku will not give handouts to anybody."

Make Nigeria worse again?

Another widely shared video accuses Atiku Abubakar of brokering a deal with Boko Haram in exchange for land and oil.

The short video, viewed over 200,000 times, was shared from a Facebook page called "Make Nigeria Worse Again". But it has no details about where or when the Atiku campaign was supposed to have announced the plan.

The Atiku campaign team told BBC Reality Check that the deal did not exist - "there is nothing to that affect".

When Buhari voted 'against Nigeria'

And finally, we've turned up an inaccurate story doing the rounds online portraying Muhammadu Buhari as both unpatriotic and bestowing favours on a member of his own ethnic group when he was military head of state in the 1980s.

This would be potentially damaging to Mr Buhari's attempt to appeal to all Nigerians, not just those from his own region.

The story relates to Mr Buhari's failure to support the election of a Nigerian candidate for the post of secretary general of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor of the African Union (AU).

Instead, the story goes, he supported a non-Nigerian from the neighbouring country of Niger - where a member of his own Fulani ethnic group was a candidate for the job.

This story has been repeatedly and emphatically rejected by the president's spokesman, Garba Shehu.


Opposition party in Nigeria elections alleges ghost voters

Nigeria's opposition says there are more than 1 million ghost voters on the national register head of Saturday's presidential election.

Uche Secondus, the chairman of the opposition People's Democratic Party, told a news conference in the capital, Abuja, on Thursday that the electoral commission "did not in fact do a cleanup of the register of voters" before publishing it.

He also alleged "a coordinated approach to register foreigners" as voters.

The People's Democratic Party, whose presidential candidate is Atiku Abubakar, is Nigeria's main opposition party.

A spokesman for the electoral commission did not respond to requests for a comment.

The electoral commission says 84 million people are registered to vote.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his top challenger, Abubakar, renewed a pledge for a peaceful poll on Wednesday.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Stampede in President Buhari rally leaves several dead

Several people have been killed in a stampede at a rally in support of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari's candidacy days before the country's presidential and legislative elections, his office has said.

The incident on Tuesday took place in Port Harcourt, a southern city in the Niger Delta oil-production heartland.

Buhari's office said in a statement the president had been "informed of the tragic deaths of several members of his All Progressives Congress (APC) party".

Local media said panic broke out at the end of the gathering, held inside the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium when crowds tried to force their way through a locked exit.

"Those from behind were pushing and putting pressure on those in front leading to some persons falling on the ground and being trampled upon," said journalist Egufe Yafugborhi of the Vanguard newspaper.

In a statement, Judith Amaechi, who runs the party's regional women and youth team, expressed "deep shock over the death of APC members who were in a stampede".

The statement did not specify the number of people killed.

Separately, a spokesman for the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital said the stampede claimed at least 14 lives.

"There are others under medical attention at the Emergency Unit, so we can't force a clear figure beyond what the situation is at the moment," Kem Daniel-Elebiga told AFP news agency.

Rising tensions

The February 16 elections in Africa's most populous country will see Buhari stand for a second four-year term against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in what is expected to be a close race.

In recent weeks, tensions have risen between the APC and Abubakar's People's Democratic Party (PDP).

The PDP has accused the government of seeking to rig the vote while the APC has said the opposition party is fomenting unrest.

On Sunday, five APC members were shot and killed near the oil hub of Warri city in southeast Nigeria, with authorities calling it a revenge attack by people suspected to be from the opposition.

Clashes between APC and PDP supporters have been reported from various places in Africa's largest democracy.

Nigeria has a history of election violence, with analysts warning that the forthcoming vote might be one of the bloodiest in its history.

The last election in 2015 was considered free and fair, but state and local elections, as well as earlier presidential polls, have been marred by violence and fraud allegations.

Al Jazeera

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Video - Boko Haram conflict tops agenda at Nigeria election

The people of Nigeria will vote for their new government on Saturday. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari won the election in 2015, promising to fight corruption and the armed group Boko Haram. A recent surge in attacks claimed by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. The violence affects parts of Chad, Niger, and Cameroon with Nigeria’s Borno State the worst affected. Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris reports from the state capital Maiduguri on how security remains top of the agenda ahead of Nigeria's upcoming elections.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Election office in Nigeria burnt down six days before polls

An office for Nigeria's election commission has been burned down just six days before the country is due to vote in a general election.

The fire in Plateau State has destroyed ballot boxes and voting slips.

An electoral commission spokesperson called it a setback for the preparations for the election but is quoted in This Day as saying that it is too early to suspect sabotage.

The general election is due to be held on Saturday.

On Sunday President Muhammadu Buhari warned of potential electoral fraud.

"The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has raised concerns over laundered money being funnelled into vote buying," he said an editorial published in the Pulse newspaper.

He is running for re-election in Saturday's poll where more than 84 million people are registered to vote.

Although there are many presidential candidates, analysts say Mr Buhari's main contender is former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.


Friday, February 8, 2019

Democracy in Nigeria is fading away

On January 25, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari suspended the country's top judge, Walter Onnoghen, and replaced him with an acting chief justice merely weeks before a presidential election in which judiciary can play an important role.

Onnoghen, as the head of Nigeria's independent judiciary, had helped resolve electoral disputes in past elections, some of which have been marred by violence and vote-rigging. He was similarly expected to preside over any dispute that may arise in the upcoming February 16 election.

The judge's controversial suspension so close to the election date caused uproar across Nigeria, with the Nigerian Bar Association embarking on a two-day strike and the main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, calling the president's decision "an act of dictatorship". The international community also expressed dismay over the usurpation of the judicial arm of the government by the executive branch, with the US and the EU suggesting the judge's removal could "cast a pall over the electoral process".

Violating judicial independence

Only four years ago, following the March 2015 presidential election, former President Goodluck Jonathan conceded his defeat to then-opposition candidate Buhari, becoming the first sitting president in Nigeria to do so. Jonathan's voluntary admission of electoral defeat, which was a rarity not only in Nigeria but across the African continent, encouraged Nigerian voters to place their trust in Buhari, an erstwhile dictator who famously labelled himself "a reformed democrat", to protect their rights and freedoms.

Democratic governments function on the principle of separation of powers - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary - which aims to prevent a descent to autocracy by providing for checks and balances. This is why Buhari's decision to suspend Onnoghen, an apparent violation of judicial independence, was a cause for disappointment and alarm for many who believed the president would uphold democratic values. However, it needs to be noted that the suspension of the chief justice was hardly the first time the Buhari administration infringed the principle of separation of powers and put the future of Nigerian democracy at risk.

Since Buhari took over the presidency, the federal government repeatedly used the fight against corruption - one of the cardinal promises of the current administration - as a tool to side-step the judiciary and illegally lock away, intimidate and silence its opponents and adversaries. For example, the federal government refused to release former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, who had been arrested on corruption charges in December 2015, even though he has been granted bail by several Nigerian high court judges and the ECOWAS court of justice. He remains behind bars to this day.

Moreover, throughout his first term in power, President Buhari openly argued for putting national interests over the rule of law, preparing the ground for authoritarianism and lawless actions.

At the 2018 General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, for example, the president said, "Rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation's security and national interest," and maintained that the state should be allowed to waive fundamental rights of alleged offenders when national security and public interest were threatened. Ironically, the suspended Chief Justice Onnoghen was in attendance at the event, but failed to respond to the president's blatant attack on the rule of law and the integrity of the judiciary.

Muzzled media, civil society

The judiciary was not the only branch of the government that faced attacks during Buhari's presidency. The members of the legislative branch have also been targeted by state operatives for acting against the Buhari administration.

In August 2018, armed and masked officers from the Department of State Services (DSS) staged a blockade of the National Assembly. That very same summer, prominent senators who have maintained opposition to the government also had their homes raided. The Senate president, Bukola Saraki, and one of his key allies in the Senate, Dino Melaye, are currently being investigated and harassed by the police over alleged criminal activities. The list can go on.

When the institutions that are meant to provide checks and balances, such as the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, are subdued, independent media and civil society are supposed to take over the responsibility of holding corrupt executives to account.

Unfortunately, neither the media nor the civil society fared any better in Buhari's Nigeria.

Nigeria declined three places in RSF's World Press Freedom Index in the last three years, ranking 119th out of 180 countries in 2018. Under the Buhari administration, several journalists and activists have been imprisoned and tried on terrorism charges. A section of the Nigerian Cyberterrorism Act 2015, which was signed into law by former President Jonathan, has also been weaponized against dissenters, especially Nigerian citizens active on social media. Moreover, in 2016 the Nigerian Senate flirted with the Frivolous Petitions Bill, aka "the anti-social media law", which included over-reaching provisions for social media regulation. The bill, seen by many as a dangerous encroachment on free expression, was eventually pulled following public outcry. A similar bill that seeks to equate hate speech with terrorism, however, is currently being deliberated in the National Assembly.

In the last four years, the Buhari administration erased all the gains we made in the 2015 election and created the perfect environment for autocracy by further weakening our democratic institutions, muzzling our civil society, silencing independent journalists and questioning the supremacy of the rule of law. As Nigerians head to vote in the upcoming polls, we must bear in mind that elections do not make a democracy. The current state of affairs in Nigeria should be a bigger concern for us all than any potential outcome of the upcoming election.

Written by Adewunmi Emoruwa

Al Jazeera

Monday, February 4, 2019

Nigerian Air Force destroys Boko Haram base

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has destroyed one of Boko Haram's logistics base in the restive northeastern state of Borno, a spokesperson told Xinhua on Monday.

The NAF struck the target on Saturday after it found vehicles and equipment of the terrorist group covered by dense vegetation, Ibikunle Daramola said, adding that the entire area was engulfed in fire and terrorists in the location were killed.

Boko Haram has been trying to establish an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria since 2009, killing some 20,000 people and forcing displacement of millions of others.

The group has launched attacks in recent months on military and civilian targets in northeastern Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, killing hundreds of people and forcing thousands to flee their home.

According to a recent statement by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), there has been a steep surge in displacement in northeastern Nigeria since November, triggered by a spike in attacks. More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee, many for the second time.

This is creating vast humanitarian needs and stretching the capacity of already congested camps and sites across the region, NRC said.


Nigeria vice president involved in helicopter crash

The helicopter of Nigeria's vice president crash-landed but he and the crew are safe, a spokesman said on Saturday.

Laolu Akande in a Twitter post said Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was "continuing with his engagements and plans for the day" after the crash in Kabba in Kogi state.

Akande gave no further details on the crash but he thanked God and the flight crew.

Local media outlet Sahara Reporters published photos of a helicopter on its side, its rotor blades smashed.

"We are safe and sound!" Osinbajo tweeted, saying the crew managed the situation well. He linked to a video of himself appeared unscathed and waving to supporters from a vehicle.

Akande later said the vice president told a crowd that "we are extremely grateful to the Lord for preserving our lives."

Nigeria's presidential election is on February 16 and President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a second term.


How Godfathers influence politics in Nigeria

Godfathers in Nigerian politics don't usually run for office themselves, but many believe they are the ones who decide the election winners and losers.

With campaigning well under way for general elections on 16 February, these are the men - and they invariably are men - who pull the strings behind the scenes.

They are political sponsors, who use money and influence to win support for their preferred candidates.

Their "godsons", it is believed, are not always selected for their political acumen, but rather on their ability to repay and enrich their godfather.

These arrangements have spawned the term "godfatherism", says Dr Dele Ashiru, a senior lecturer at the department of political science at the University of Lagos.

"It refers to a situation where there's a big man who wields enormous political power and then anoints a godson, who he adopts as a candidate for the election.

"And the godfather will do all that is reasonably possible to get the godson appointed into political office.

"The godfather must be influential, most often they are, or were, a political office holder."

When 'godfatherism' gets messy

In the southern state of Akwa Ibom, the country's largest oil-producer, many people believe the main godfather is Godswill Akpabio, who holds a senate seat.

A former governor of the state, he still wields significant power in local politics.

So powerful in fact that his defection just a few months ago to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) is seen as pivotal to the party's hope of winning its first victory in the state since Nigeria's return to democracy in 1999.

A hope reiterated by President Muhammadu Buhari when he chose Akwa Ibom to launch his campaign for re-election in December.

And Mr Akpabio certainly seems to deliver in numbers. During a recent rally I spoke to followers who said he would bring more than 300,000 voters over to the APC.

But Senator Akpabio denies he is a kingmaker: "If anyone wants to say that I am a godfather I want to disagree with them.

"The only time you could say I played a godfather-like role was in 2015. I nominated the current governor [of Akwa Ibom] and when I presented him to the people they supported him," he told the BBC.

Yet a member of his own party says that 2015 victory was marred by violence and irregularities, orchestrated by Mr Akpabio.

Umana Okon Umana, who was aspiring to be governor at the time, has accused Mr Akpabio of using state resources, including security forces, to install his candidate.

He describes it as a situation where a godfather sits down with his wife "and writes down all who will contest the governorship elections… all the way down to the house of assembly positions.

"He writes these names before the primaries take place. And then if you're not one of those candidates they make sure that you have no access to the venue [of the primaries]."

A Supreme Court ruling from 2015, however, declared the election in the state to be free and fair.

But "godfatherism" can get messy.

Onofiok Luke, now the speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, was one of Mr Akpabio's former godsons.

A deeply religious man, he attributes his success in politics to God, but many would say he owes far more to his former godfather.

Previously a personal assistant to Mr Akpabio, he admits to having received financial support for his wedding and 40th birthday, and that Mr Akpabio "mentored' him through his rise in politics.

However the relationship has soured and the Akwa Ibom parliamentary speaker, who says he was offered $5.5m (£4.2m) last year and the deputy governorship to switch parties, does not hold back about what he thinks his former boss is capable of.

"I have worked with him, and I know that he knows how to use state power."

In a written response from his media team, Mr Akpabio denied all allegations against him, stating: "We understand that this is a season for campaigns and these wild and unsubstantiated allegations will be thrown about by opponents to gain political mileage."

Battle of the hats

In a very different part of the country, the political future of the majority Muslim state of Kano in the north may also be defined by a larger-than-life godfather.

Kano has the second-biggest number of registered voters in the country, making it a key state for either of the two main parties to secure victory.

Rabiu Kwankwaso, a former governor, has built a loyal and dedicated following there, partly built through a free education programme implemented during his tenure. Whichever candidate gets his blessing is guaranteed a lot of voters.

He even has his own political fan club, known as the Kwankwasiyya movement, whose members are easily recognisable in their uniform of red caps and white gowns.

He is backing Abba Kabiru Yusuf, a candidate from the People's Democratic Party (PDP), after falling out with a former ally.

On many campaign posters, Mr Kwankwaso's image is larger than that of the PDP contender.

"In all the states you go today, especially in northern Nigeria, you'll hardly get a house without a member of Kwankwasiyya, either the father or the mother or one of the children, or the worker in the house," Mr Kwankwaso told the BBC.

In the last elections he successfully endorsed Abdullahi Ganduje, his former deputy for governor.

But since Mr Ganduje became governor, he has been locked in a bitter dispute with Mr Kwankwaso.

The feud is so fierce that for some time Mr Kwankwaso avoided the city of Kano where there has been an attempt to counter his popularity with the so-called Gandujiyya movement, whose members wear blue hats.

'Question of ego'

As godsons become political players in their own right, it is inevitable that they fall out with their godfathers.

Mr Ashiru says this is because in developing societies like Nigeria, the state is the most important source of revenue and wealth accumulation, which both will want to access to.

But it is also a question of ego, according to Emmanuel Onwubiko, from Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria.

"Some of the godfathers are not really out to get money, they just want respect, they want to be venerated if they come into the state; they want to be recognised as the most important person in that society," he says.

For Mr Ashiru this is a key problem with godfatherism: "Godfather culture is more about the individual than the collective.

"Democracy is about the people, but here you have a few individuals across the country who take critical political decisions, particularly that have to do with the recruitment of public officers.

"So it goes without saying that such a system cannot make democracy thrive."

All the politicians I spoke to shied away from the term "godfather" as it has become loaded - associated with bullish tactics and undemocratic practices.

And as godsons gain their confidence, it is not clear how much longer godfathers will be able to keep their hold on power.

For Mr Akpabio and Mr Kwankwaso, it will not be long before they find out if their influence is waning.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Video - 800,000 still out of reach of humanitarian aid in Nigeria

The United Nations has expressed its concern over the insecurity in parts of Nigeria, especially Borno State. The statement came as regional officials concluded their meeting in the Nigerian capital to find solutions to the growing humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region, which has been the scene of a violent struggle between Boko Haram and security forces. Hundreds of thousands of people struggling to survive remain out of reach of humanitarian assistance in northeast Nigeria and are vulnerable to exploitation by armed groups.

Creating successful products is a challenge in Nigeria

In a bid to diversify its economy following the 2016 recession, Nigeria is looking to boost its manufacturing capabilities.

The "business hub" of Africa, Nigeria is home to the continent's biggest population and biggest economy.

But the challenge lies in convincing Nigerians to pick locally made products over imported goods.

One firm trying to build its brand is food and beverage manufacturer Rite Foods.

The company has a factory located three hours outside Lagos, where it makes a range of soft drinks, mineral water and snacks like sausage rolls.

"If anything, being a Nigerian-owned brand initially would almost become a negative, because people think that what is produced locally just can't be as good, but what we've been able to do in the last 28 months is to show that no, actually you can be a proud Nigerian brand," Rite Foods' managing director Seleem Adegunwa told the BBC.

But manufacturing in the country comes with a whole host of other challenges as well.

"Everything is a challenge. You have to produce the power [to run the plant] yourself, because you're not on the grid," explained Mr Adegunwa.

And then there's gaining access to markets.

In 2015, African consumers spent an estimated $1.4 trillion (£1.1tn), according to research firm McKinsey, and by 2025, consumer spending is expected to top $2tn (£1.5tn).

South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt made up more than half of that total.

Nigeria is home to 200 million people, and its consumer market is estimated to be worth $150bn, which means there's a lot of potential for growth, although there is stiff competition from international brands both in the continent and abroad.

"Nigeria just came out of a recession, and after the recession there were some adjustment policies that took place. The currency lost about 60% of its value," finance expert Bismarck Rewane told the BBC.

"All of this has made homemade goods much more competitive than imported goods, so people will have taken advantage of the currency value, the size of the market, the changing demographic and the fact that there is growth taking place after six quarters of negative growth."