Saturday's chaotic polls could throw Nigeria off recovery path

President Muhammadu Buhari casting his votes. AFP.

Elections in Nigeria mirror its chaotic society. In its six decades of independence, the country has been marred with military coups, endemic corruption, economic instability and secessionist movements.

In Saturday's polls, Nigeria's 73 million voters had an opportunity of choosing their president from a pool of 70 candidates.  This after the election was postponed on February 16 barely hours to the start of voting, with its electoral commission claiming that certain logistics had not been cleared. Interestingly, days before the surprise announcement, Independent  National Electoral Commission, INEC, was waxing confident that it was ready for the polls.

The incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and the main Opposition leader Atiku Abubakar are the main contenders.

President Buhari, who is a former military ruler, contested on a platform of fighting corruption while Atiku, a businessman, is promosing to expand the private sectors.

The 2015 election in Nigeria, was seen as the freest and the fairest the country ever had since the end of the military rule in the year 1999. But now, election observers cite serious setbacks in the 2019 polls.

According to Idayat Hassan of the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) in Abuja and who spoke to AFP, this year's bloodshed and malpractices were a step backwards to the country's recovering economy.

"This election was a serious deterioration from 2015. What we now expect from a credible, free and fair election was not there," said Idayat.

Already President Buhari and Abubakar Atiku have claimed victory even before voting began, raising  the question of whether any of them will concede defeat.

Violence and irregularities

A report by civil society groups reveals that as many as 39 people have already been killed in election violence. Though the number is lower than the highest witnessed post-election violence in the country,  history indicates major unrest occurr after results are announced.

On Sunday afternoon Babu Galadima, the spokesperson of the People's Democratic Party presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, was allegedly kidnapped by unidentified men and his whereabouts are still yet to be known. That is according to Galadima's personal assistant.

Hours before voting began,  Boko Haram Islamic militants launched a rocket attack on the northeastern city of Maiduguri that killed one soldier.

In Rivers state, in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta region, the army said soldiers killed six gang members who were fighting the police. Cases of electoral body staff and police being held hostage were also reported in the same area.

Ballot-snatching, vote-buying and violence, have been reported in the southwestern state of Lagos.

Mahmood Yakubu,  the chairman of the INEC, said an electoral official had been shot dead by unknown people. The state did not comment on the matter as the opposition condemned the incident.

Voters queuing to vote at Port Harcourt,Nigeria. AFP.

Voting pattern

Nigeria's voting patterns have been characterised along ethnic and religious lines. 

The majority of the northern states are Muslim while those in the Southern states are Christian.

With both Atiku and Buhari being Muslims, they are expected to share the northern vote, leaving the Southern states as the key battleground that will determine who clinches the top seat.

In order to be declared the President-elect in the first round poll, the winner needs to receive the majority of the votes and at least 25 per cent of the votes in two-thirds of the 36 states plus the Abuja capital territory.