The logistical nightmare of Nigeria's polls
Throughout April, Nigerians will elect a new president, 469 members of parliament and 36 state governors.
Last Modified: 13 Apr 2011 18:52
 Despite polls being postponed, politicians are campaigning across Africa's most populous country [EPA]

Running elections in Nigeria is nothing short of a logistical nightmare. Some 73 million voters in Africa's most populous nation are looking to cast ballots in the three-week-long 2011 election period. 

Over 120,000 polling stations are set up across the country: from the winding, swampy creeks of Nigeria's oil rich Niger Delta in the South, to the desert plains of Nigeria's north, no area has been left uncovered. For 21 days during April, Nigerians will choose representatives for virtually every tier of government.

Nigerians will be looking to vote-in around 469 members of parliament, a new president, 36 new state governors, and hundreds of representatives in state legislatures. For electoral officials, the logistical difficulties were first witnessed on April 2 when the parliamentary elections had to be cancelled four hours into voting.

The alarm went off when millions of ballot papers and results sheets had not arrived to thousands of polling stations in the north and south.

The poll was postponed to April 9, but again due to logistical problems of getting election materials to the right places, 64 elections for parliamentarians had to be cancelled. A third attempt to hold those postponed elections will occur on April 26.


The challenge for Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in holding the 2011 polls has been colossal. The biggest problem: finding the manpower to conduct the polls because of the sheer scale, size, and population of the country. Nigeria's population is 150 million and the country shares porous borders with four other West African countries.

Getting election materials to polling centres to register voters to participate is where the challenge began: 132,000 laptop computers; 132,000 webcams; 132,000 finger print scanners, and the batteries and hardrives for each scanner had to be acquired and shipped to Nigeria for the polls. Electoral officials have had to employ and then train some 300,000 Nigerian youth corps to man polling stations - including getting people to register, and then cast their votes.

In cities, towns, and villages all over the country, members of the community have helped poll station staff by doing everything they can to provide aid. Nigerians have been helping supply everything from water to electricity to the poll centers. Though supplying electricity may seem awkward, this issue is a fact of life in the country.

Although Nigeria is the world's sixth largest exporter of oil, 80 per cent of people live below the poverty line. Electricity and running water are scarce in most of the country. During registration for the election in February and voting in parliamentary elections on April 9, there were thousands of reports of equipment failing due to power running out. And, it's believed that the electrical and logistical problems during the April 2 poll caused lower voter turnout on the re-scheduled poll date of April 9.

Perhaps this is why getting these elections right and choosing the right representatives has been so important to many Nigerians. Nigeria has been a democratic country for only 12 years, and trillions of dollars have been lost to the corrupt practices of some politicians. Given the climate, Nigeria's electoral officials have been forgiven by most Nigerians for things going wrong.

Yet the greatest and most important test of their competence is yet to come: on Saturday, April 16, the presidential election will take place. The hope and prayer of election officials is that things go smoothly – and there is a clear winner. If not, a run-off will have to take place.

Al Jazeera
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