Nigerians on Saturday hit out in frustration and anger at election officials after a last-minute delay to voting, just as they were preparing to cast their ballots.
Many people were taken unawares by the overnight announcement and only found out when they reached polling stations — to find them empty and unstaffed.
Others counted the cost of a lost day’s work in a country where many people are daily wage earners in the informal sector, and some 87 million live in extreme poverty.
In the commercial capital Lagos, streets normally teeming with activity were eerily empty on Saturday morning, with many businesses closed.
“It’s not a good day,” said David Ujo, a 58-year-old flower stall owner, watering his plants by the road-side. “It’s like a lost day, no one is around.”
Many polling units across the city were not even set up, reflecting widespread reports of problems with the distribution of election materials.
“This is where the polling unit should be,” said Austin Onwusoanya, who was expected to manage a polling unit in the sandy compound of a secondary school in the Ikoyi area.
He said no election equipment was sent, even as locals continued to enter through the school gates to confirm that the delay was true.
“They had rolled out the timetable months ago,” said Onwusoanya angrily.
Many people had planned weddings and other important engagements around election day but now had to reschedule, he added.
– ‘This is Nigeria!’ –
Meanwhile, dozens of angry men crowded around a stand of the day’s newspapers, laid out on the ground under rocks.
Many carried headlines prematurely declaring the polls open. One, the Saturday Independent, read: “Nigeria Decides Today.”
Newspaper vendor Samson Onasanya said he was not surprised at the delay, in a country accustomed to last-minute preparations, even for long-standing engagements.
In 2015, INEC postponed elections by six weeks — but at least did so with one week to go before people travelled back to their home villages and towns to cast their vote.
“This is Nigeria, this is Nigeria,” he shouted, adding: “We are tired of all this.
“This is not the first time it has happened and it will not be the last time, it is because they don’t respect we the voters.”
– Demand for answers –
About 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) northwest in Buhari’s home town of Daura, in Katsina State, many would-be supporters of the president tried to return to normalcy.
Shops began to open and motorcycle taxis plied the streets for customers.
Many in Buhari’s stronghold were also frustrated and suspicious of the reasons for the delay.
“We suspect foul play,” ventured Abba Hassan Shehu, a 22-year-old student.
“INEC (the Independent National Electoral Commission) told us they were ready. How could they now tell us they can’t conduct the election?
“They should give us a more cogent excuse,” he said, surrounded by a group of young men who nodded in agreement.
INEC officials in various states also lamented the inconvenience.
In the southern city of Port Harcourt, election officers woke up with shock and anger at the news, after a night spent sleeping out in the open next to election materials.
Many had travelled from faraway places and there was no guarantee voters would return for the rescheduled poll, they said.
Presidential and parliamentary elections are now due on February 23. Governorship and state assembly polls have been pushed back to March 9.
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