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Nigeria's general election saw disorganization and violence


In Nigeria, Africa's largest democracy, it could be days until we know the final result from Saturday's general election. While the votes are still being counted, we're also learning about the disorganization and violence at some polling stations. The two established frontrunners for the ruling party and the main opposition claim they have a clear path to victory at this early stage. But the biggest upset has been outsider Peter Obi's win in the key state of Lagos.

For the latest, let's go to NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu in the capital, Abuja. And I will note to listeners, he's brought us audio that contains the sound of gunfire later on in this interview. Hi, Emmanuel.


CHANG: So can you just briefly remind us what is at stake in these elections? And do we have a sense of when we're likely to get a result?

AKINWOTU: You know, many people I spoke to before the polls and on the day said this was a chance to set the country on a different path. You know, outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari is leaving office after eight, frankly, bleak years. The economy has been battered, high unemployment, inflation, a weakened currency. And then there's been insecurity, which has really spread. So many people are vulnerable to armed groups now, and kidnaps for ransom are rife. So this vote has really carried a striking sense of urgency.

Usually, elections in Nigeria are between two main candidates, which this time are Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling party and Atiku Abubakar of the opposition. Both of them are leading with some of the votes declared so far. But this time, there's a third, Peter Obi. He's an establishment figure but seen as a more younger, more honest kind. He's trailing at the moment but, to be honest, in a fairly spectacular way. He's won in some major states, including Lagos. This particular victory has galvanized people who want to feel that change is possible anywhere. And sadly, we're not actually going to get a result at the moment, which is a major problem because there's a lot of upset and distrust towards the electoral commission.

CHANG: Yeah, let's talk more about that. I know that there was a lot of disruption over the weekend with the vote. What exactly is slowing things down?

AKINWOTU: You know, the management of this election from the electoral commission was a shambles across large parts of the country. Electoral commission officials turned up late, sometimes hours and hours late, so people couldn't vote until early in the afternoon. There were a lack of materials. There were issues with the new BVAS voting system that's meant to accredit voters. And the electoral commission say that's led to issues with delays uploading the results. So so many results have come in late, which has damaged trust in the system. You know, actually, opposition parties walked out of the venue that results are meant to be announced from. The Labour Party and the opposition PDP say there's a lack of transparency.

Earlier today, I caught up with Democrat Stacey Abrams. She's been here in Abuja as part of an observer mission to monitor the elections.

STACEY ABRAMS: The political violence we've seen, the fear that some voters have faced, is troubling, and it is disturbing. And it should not be countenanced anywhere. Nigeria is the most populous democracy on this continent. And as goes Nigeria, so goes so much of the question of the future.

CHANG: Well, Stacey Abrams there is talking about sporadic violence at some polling stations, which I understand, Emmanuel, you witnessed yourself this weekend. What exactly happened? What did you see?

AKINWOTU: Ailsa, I was at a polling unit in Surulere, an area in Lagos. There were about 70, 80 people waiting, and they were frustrated because of delays. Then out of nowhere, a group of masked men - they were armed - they arrived and they started shooting. And I should warn listeners that what you're about to hear is gunfire.


AKINWOTU: Some boys came with guns. They started shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Enough is enough in this country. Enough is enough. Where are the soldiers? Where are them guys? Where are the soldiers?

AKINWOTU: We don't know who they were for sure, but we know they were there to disrupt a polling station where it seemed like many people wanted to vote for Peter Obi. But you know what? The pretty incredible thing was, just before I left, some people who had just escaped what'd just happened were dusting themselves off and waiting to see whether voting would restart again because they were determined to vote.

CHANG: Wow. That was NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu in Abuja. Thank you so much, Emmanuel.

AKINWOTU: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.