Legit.ng author Ameto Akpe offers some insight into the hopes and fears of the Nigerian diaspora abroad regarding the 2015 presidential election.
It is afternoon, March the 28th, and the fear in the pit of my stomach has eased a little. Updates from friends, family, fellow journalists and random acquaintances inform of general calm at polling booths, as the much-awaited 2015 Nigerian general elections get underway.
Though I am far from my native country at the moment, I recall 1999 with vivid clarity the sights, sounds, smell and feeling of standing in line to cast a vote as Nigeria transitioned from military to democratic rule. Since then I have monitored and written about elections as a reporter.
Intensely aware of the potential volatility surrounding the elections, I, like many other fellow Nigerians in the diaspora, have spent the build-up to the elections in fear. All conversations seem to narrow down to the possibility of violence and concerns over the safety of loved ones back home.
Yesterday in London, 'pre-election day' night-vigils organized by Nigerian-born pastors were held till the break of dawn. Hours of loud supplication to God for peace and 'no bloodshed'.
Many Nigerians have fled to their hometowns and villages, potential 'safe zones', far removed from the city centers. This mass migration of many stems fro, not only anxiety over the possibility of a violence outbreak, but also concern over the adequacy of the nation’s military to provide protection. This means voter turnout may slump to a notable low, and the 'choices' of many eligible voters would never be 'heard'.
At a polling booth in Nigeria's capital city Abuja, a contact holds up her mobile phone so I can listen to the loud hum of a helicopter circling overhead. She says people are calm and there are armed policemen everywhere. Her attestation is corroborated by reports on social media.
Nigerians are thus worthy of some applause. All over the country, dozens of people wait in line patiently, accepting the 'folly' of election officials who forget to remove the protective film from card-readers, which leads to unnecessary delay as the machines fail to identify voters. And people seem to take in good spirit the delays until about 1pm before they could cast their votes.
But the true test of this calm would be on Monday, when the results start rolling in.
The notion is, if the presidential hopeful General Muhammadu Buhari is in the lead, the 'peaceful tide' that seems to prevail would continue. However, if the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan were reported to be in the lead, die-hard oppositionists and those just plain tired of his leadership would break this tide. It is hard to put a finger on why this thought prevails.
However, summary statements by Buhari, like the one he made a couple of days ago at a conference in Lagos assuring supporters that he will definitely win the elections, leave room for trepidation if, or when, such declarations do not come true. Notably, this same argument can be made regarding the PDP camp. However, fear seems to linger more on the potentiality of the APC failing to secure the presidential office.
While pundits, analysts, Nigerian voters do not all agree on who is best suited to lead the country in the next four years, there is consensus that this is a tightly-run race. Never in the history of our nation’s democracy has it been so hard to confidently predict who will win the presidential race.
So far, the day’s big winner seems to be Nigeria’s Electoral Commission (the INEC), seemingly justified for postponing the formerly-slated Valentine's day elections. While persisting shortcomings, like the late arrival of voting officials and materials and the almost comical failure of card-readers to recognize the fingerprints of president Jonathan and his wife, social media has been abuzz with cheers for the introduction of these electronic card-readers which are supposed to help reduce rigging and other malpractices and thus help spur confidence in the eventual winner of the elections. Hopefully, this would deflate the disappointment of those whose anger may flare and cause what Nigerians call 'wahala'.
In the interim, I remain glued to my computer. Sitting in my apartment in the fading lights of another Spring day in Denmark, I continue to follow live-feeds from home and abroad. And I fear that this vigil will not end until final announcements in the next day or two.
Ameto Akpe is a Nigerian journalist, a 2014 Nieman Fellow at Harvard and currently a Mundus Journalism Scholar in Denmark.
The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.