BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
SURROUNDED by countries inundated with bloody and crisis-laden democratic transition programmes, Nigerians on Saturday demonstrated their willingness to make their country one of Africa’s beacon of democracy.
Many Nigerians from all walks of life – the old, the blind, the frail, the sick and even adults, who had never voted all their lives, defied the scorching heat in most parts of the country to vote in Saturday’s presidential polls, the seventh in the country’s electoral history.
About 48 million voters or two-third of the 73 million registered voters took part in the election and the turnout is considered unprecedented in the history of presidential elections in the country. About 7.185 million voters took part in the December 12, 1959 elections.
On August 11, 1979, the turnout was 16.85 million. The rest include: August 6, 1983 -25.43 million; June 12, 1993 -14.293 million; February 27, 1999 -30.280 million; April 19, 2003 – 42.019 million and April 21, 2007 – 35.398 million.
If the polls terminate conclusively as expected, Nigeria would have waded successfully through her fourth successive transition programme (1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011), which compares favourably with the likes of Ghana (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008) and South (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010) that have held five successive civilian -to- civilian elections.
Cote D’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Niger are among African countries that staged controversial presidential polls in recent times.
Coming after months of preparations including a week extension, 15 men and a lady filed out for the polls, seeking the mandate of Nigerian voters to become the nation’s fifth democratically elected head of state.
The presidential polls, the fourth in a roll since 1999, had incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP), Maj General Muhammadu Buhari (CPC), Nuhu Ribadu (ACN) and Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP), as front runners.
Other contenders were Dele Momodu (NCP), John Dara (NTP), Chris Okotie (FDP), Ebiti Ndok (UNPD), Akpona Solomon (NMDP), Ambrose Owuru (HDP), Chris Nwaokobia (LDP), Iheanyichukwu Nnaji (BNP), Nwadike Chikezie (PMP), Rasheed Shitta-Bey (MPPP), Mahmud Waziri (PDC), Yahaya Ndu (ARP).
Prof Pat Utomi of the SDMP and Prof Peter Nwangwu of the ADC had earlier withdrawn from the race. While Utomi left the stage for Shekarau, Nwangwu stepped down for Jonathan.
Of the lot, Buhari, Okotie, Ambrose Owuru, Yahaya Ndu and Nnaji are veteran presidential candidates with most of them going for their third attempt.
The rest, including President Jonathan, are first-time presidential candidates.
As it were, only 16 of the nation’s 63 political parties fielded flagbearers for the contest. And out of the remaining 47 parties, 45 had adopted Jonathan as their consensus candidate.
The PDP went into the race as a clear favourite given the results of last week’s National Assembly elections.
The Peoples Democratic Party dominated the federal legislature polls in five of the country’s six geo-political zones, leaving out the South-West for the Action Congress of Nigeria. So far, it has 58 Senate seats and 158 House of Representatives slots. Combined, the remaining 62 parties have 32 Senate seats and 124 House of Representatives position.
In essence, even if PDP doesn’t win any of the remaining 19 senatorial and 78 House of Representatives positions, no party can dislodge it from the vantage position of majority party in the National Assembly.
Indeed, the National Assembly election appeared to be shaping the outcome of the presidential election as of press time with President Jonathan leading in the presidential election that witnessed a massive turnout of voters unlike the moderate turnout observed last week.
In Lagos, umbrella-clutching voters blazed the blazing sun and lined up in a windy queue, which stretched up to 300 metres in some polling centres, to exercise their franchise. In many polling stations, the scenario presented an interesting spectacle. The polls were violence and incident-free in most locations. Security agents went about their duties in a civil manner. Electoral officials arrived with voting materials on time and the polls commenced at 8.a.m as scheduled in most centres.
Youths take to soccer
As usual, the roads and streets were empty and devoid of economic activities apart from chesty youths, who converted them into emergency football fields, where they honed their soccer skills.
Most voters in Lagos, a predominantly ACN state, cast their lot with Jonathan of the PDP and promised to reverse the trend on April 26 during the governorship and State Houses of Assembly election because “we are no longer voting for parties. We are voting for individuals and persons, who will develop the country.”
In Enugu, a blind man, Mike Ode, who was at the Air Force Primary School, Independence Layout, told News Agency of Nigeria that in spite of his handicap, he was happy to participate in the process.
Ode was assisted to the polling station by his 11-year old daughter. “This is my first time of voting in an election in a long while.”
At the Federal Government College polling station, Chief Chinedu Mokelu, a son of a Second Republic politician, who is down with a partial stroke was assisted to the station to also cast his vote. “I am happy that in my lifetime I am witnessing free and fair elections.”
A host of the old electors, pregnant women and nursing mothers were given preferential treatment and were allowed to take their turns in voting for candidates of their choice.
Okotie, Bakare say presidential polls impressive
From the lips of Fresh Democratic Party (FDP) Presidential Candidate, Rev Chris Okotie and and Vice Presidential Candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Pastor Tunde Bakare, came commendations for yesterday’s presidential polls.
Speaking with newsmen shortly after voting, Okotie said that voters’ turnout was not only impressive but also unprecedented.
“I am sure that this is the beginning of a new social order in the country,” Okotie remarked.
He, however, doubted that the election was free and fair “because some politicians will always have a way of manipulating election results.”
On his part, Bakare, said there was a semblance of credibility in the voting process, adding that the turnout for the poll was better than what was recorded in the April 9 National Assembly elections.
“I am only hoping that the election will give the same result of credibility,” Bakare said. I am confident of CPC’s victory because Nigerians know that a vote for CPC is a vote for two credible Nigerians,” he said.