FOR Nigeria, the reaction after a winner from its much-watched presidential election is announced could be the difference between whether it greatly enhances its international reputation as an emerging democracy and investment destination, or becomes another example of the continent’s often troubled votes.
The oil-dependent economy has in recent months taken a battering, as prices plunged and the uncertainly of a high-stakes election conducted against a background of a militant insurgency begun to tell.
Results could be available as early as Monday, according to Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Jega told a news conference on Sunday the electoral commission was confident its objective of holding a “free, fair, credible and peaceful” election was “on course”.
Failures in controversial new technology pushed voting into a second day on Sunday, with Jega conceding there had been “challenges” but termed the glitches “statistically insignificant”.
The election, which was delayed by six weeks, is the most hotly contested since military rule ended in 1999 in Africa’s biggest economy. President Goodluck Jonathan, 57, and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are facing a united opposition led by former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a 72-year-old who has lost three previous elections.
The signs have so far been good—election observers have generally had the same positive message about the credibility.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared the presidential and parliamentary elections as “largely peaceful” and orderly, even as he condemned attacks carried out by suspected Boko Haram Islamist militants and others attempting to disrupt the vote.
Ban was “encouraged by the determination and resilience shown by the Nigerian people in pressing forward and exercising their civic duties in the face of unjustifiable violence,” his office said in an e-mailed statement.
The African Union has said the elections were “generally” peaceful despite isolated incidents of violence, though the country’s election agency should improve planning after widespread delays.
“Elections have been conducted in a peaceful atmosphere,” Amos Sawyer, head of the AU’s election observer mission, told reporters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The AU recommends the INEC improve the “overall planning and implementation of the electoral process.”
The bloc observed 310 polling units and found only 23% of stations opened on time and the accreditation and voting system “was found to be a challenge,” said Sawyer.
Regional bloc Economic Community for West African States commended Nigeria for staging a “peaceful and orderly election” that would strengthen democracy and good governance.
“The turnout of voters was generally high,” the 16-nation regional grouping said in a statement. Election officials “demonstrated good knowledge of, and compliance, with voting procedures. The organisation of the election can be considered as generally acceptable.”
But as elections in Africa have shown, the crucial decider has always been if the losing side accepts the election results.
The ruling PDP has already criticised the technical glitches even as the opposition APC said the use of technology would help reduce incidences of fraud.
Supporters of Nigeria’s main opposition party dispersed a protest march in the oil-industry hub of Port Harcourt, but were set to return on Monday after allegations of vote rigging in Rivers state during the elections.
Thousands of All Progressives Congress supporters had marched peacefully through the streets of Port Harcourt, the state capital, to the electoral commission’s local offices, watched by policemen in riot gear.
While the Rivers state vote may not affect the overall election outcome, the standoff has the potential to stoke post- election violence, Folarin Gbadebo-Smith, managing director of the Center for Public Policy Alternatives in Lagos, told Bloomberg.
The UN called on any disputes arising from the elections to be resolved thought “established” channels.
For Nigeria, much is riding on the outcome, not least its status as one of Africa’s hottest investment destinations.