After a six-week delay, Nigeria will be holding presidential elections on Saturday, and the international community is bracing for possible violence.
In 2011, riots erupted in parts of the country after Goodluck Jonathan of the governing People’s Democratic Party won his first presidential election over his challenger former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress party.
The upcoming elections are a rematch of sorts with Jonathan seeking a second four-year term and facing a more unified opposition with Buhari at the helm. After Jonathan handily defeated Buhari in 2011’s elections, Saturday’s elections are expected to be among the most competitive in Nigeria’s history, the BBC reported.
Both leading candidates have promised peaceful elections, but “many [Nigerians] believe this won’t hold water,” Lagos-based Reuters photographer Akintunde Akinleye told the PBS NewsHour.
“It could be taken as though it’s just something on the surface,” he said, “but people are praying, hoping that somehow, somehow, somehow Nigeria will pull itself together.”
The post-election violence in 2011 killed more than 800 people, Human Rights Watch said, and displaced tens of thousands of others, as Buhari supporters burned down churches, homes and mosques in protest. And the National Human Rights Commission has said the ramp-up to the elections has seen dozens of people die — considered a worrisome trend because “the pattern and intensity of pre-election violence is atypical of Nigeria’s recent electoral history.”
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama also called on all Nigerians to “peacefully express your views and to reject the voices of those who call for violence.”
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with a half-Christian, half-Muslim population that has deep-seated distrust of the electoral process, even since civilian rule was restored in 1999. Military authorities annulled the 1993 presidential elections.
Akinleye, a Nigerian native, said the Nigerians he spoke to have expressed fear over continued bloodshed by the Islamist militant group known as Boko Haram, corruption that has come to define Nigerian politics and what Akinleye calls “basic human issues” such as addressing electricity shortages.
As Nigerians question their government’s ability to address these issues, Akinleye said that the candidates should be waging a campaign of “how.”
“How are you gonna stop corruption? How are you going to improve on education? How are you going to improve the health care system? These are the issues … that people actually want the candidates to address,” he said.
Despite distrust among some Nigerians, 82 percent of voters have picked up their ID cards, Reuters reported. And, according to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Nigerians have voted in an election and a latest poll from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems found that 79 percent of Nigerians are very or somewhat likely to vote in the presidential election this Saturday.
Akinleye said that even compared to the last election, people believe more than ever that they can actually change the government with their votes.
“There’s this new level of political awareness to the extent that people now realize that, ‘hey, this is democracy,'” he said.