Voter verification lists hard to find in Nigeria
LAGOS, Nigeria – Student Yakubu Daniel ran his index finger over list after weathered list of voter names and mugshots Friday, searching for his own unsmiling face among those registered for Nigeria's upcoming April elections.
"It bothers me a lot," the 24-year-old said after failing to find his name.
The 63.9 million people registered ahead of the presidential election in Africa's most populous nation should have returned to their polling sites this week to search for their names against lists prepared by the country's Independent National Electoral Commission.
However, many of the roughly 120,000 sites remained empty in large cities and rural lands, blocking people from the one chance to verify they can vote. Officials repeatedly promise the election will be free and fair in a country where elections remain plagued by fraud.
Nigeria has been a democracy for just over a decade, and voter registration lists here in 2007 included the names of Mike Tyson, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. That election was roundly rejected by international observers for being rigged.
The election committee spent more than $230 million to purchase laptop computers, digital cameras and fingerprint scanners to register voters across the country. However, many complained about the equipment and long lines as the registration drive took place.
A five-day review period began Monday, with the commission urging voters to return to the schoolyards and mango-tree-shaded spots where registration took place to check their names against the compiled roll.
However, in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, the city of 14 million saw few of the locations with voter lists. An Associated Press reporter found two lists in Lagos' busy Yaba commercial district — and those were on the same block as the state office of the election commission.
Ogunmola Adekunle, the state's resident electoral commissioner, told the AP that there were more than 8,000 locations with lists across the city. Asked about the empty polling stations, Adekunle blamed an audit request from the nation's capital for them being unmanned Thursday. He offered no explanation for why the stations were unmanned for the rest of the five-day period.
The problems span across the nation of 150 million people, roughly split between a Christian south and Muslim north. In Kano, the largest city of the north, confused voters wandered the dusty streets trying to find the voter list. One even acknowledged registering in three different neighborhoods to make sure he could vote in the elections. He couldn't find a list at any of the three.
Others complained about officials misspelling names and putting the wrong biographic information on their paper voter identification cards.
"This is where I registered," said Chukwuma Okafor, 51, as he stood in front of a school yard. "I couldn't find my name, and honestly I didn't do double registration. Nobody can disenfranchise me, they must solve my problem."
It remains unclear what remedy, if any, voters will have come April 2, the first of the three election dates in the country.
Kayode Idowu, a national spokesman for the election commission, said Friday that this five-day period would be the only opportunity for voters to make changes or file complaints as the voter registry will "be firmly applied" during the April elections.
"The chances are that many you spoke with never bothered to go check their names," Idowu said.
For Daniel, the university student in Lagos, he said he would complain to election officials about his name not being on the list.
"We have problems in election periods, but there will not be problems this time," he said. "Thing are going to work out well."
However, he does not know whether he, like millions of others, will be able to cast a ballot.
Associated Press Writer Salisu Rabiu in Kano, Nigeria contributed to this report.
Independent National Electoral Commission: http://www.inecnigeria.org