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World

Opinion: Nigerians give terrorism the cold shoulder

There are no results in Nigeria's presidential elections yet. But while there were technical mishaps and some violence, too, the vote is a success so far, says DW's Thomas Mösch.

Election days are always full of surprises in Nigeria. Four years ago, parliamentary elections were postponed on the original date of voting, because the election commission realized that everything was about to drown in chaos. Nigeria held its breath - and in the end, the elections were held in pretty orderly and correct fashion.

The surprising thing this time around is that there weren't any surprises. Election supervisors came way too late in many places, ballots and ballot boxes were delivered late or not at all in many regions and computer technology even failed at the president's polling station.

But all that is nothing new for Nigerians and the election commission reacted quite relaxed: registration is just done without computers, voting and vote counting takes place into the night and if all else fails, the whole thing starts over the next day. There hasn't been serious protest against these regular, organizational problems from either the opposition or the government party. It really doesn't matter whether a do-over had to happen in 300 or in 350 out of 150,000 polling stations on Sunday. It's hard to believe that an election supervisor in Germany would be this flexible.

Violence in the Niger delta

Thomas Mösch. (Photo: DW/Per Henriksen)

DW's Thomas Mösch

It also doesn't come as a surprise that it was mostly the state Rivers in the Niger delta and other states in the country's southeast that saw the most direct violence related to the elections.

In Rivers, no punches were pulled during the campaign. The region is a traditional stronghold of the government party PDP, which managed to gain more than 100 percent of the registered votes in some of the previous elections. Ever since Rivers' governor defected to the opposition coalition APC, trouble was in the air.

After all, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan hails from the neighboring state of Bayelsa. Where, if not in the Niger delta, would he have a secure electoral base? The delta had already been a violent hotspot in former elections: armed robbery, theft of ballot boxes and more or less public filling of ballot boxes with prepared ballots were par for the course.

Not giving in to terrorism

If there was a surprise at all, it would have to be the relative quiet in Nigeria's north. Even in the last few weeks, there were suicide attacks on markets and in coach stations in several big cities. The terrorist group Boko Haram had vowed to not let the elections organized by their hated central state come to pass. The masses of voters coming to the polling stations would have been an easy target.

The fact that so many people in the country's northeastern regions that have been hit hard by terrorism showed up to vote is the most impressive thing about these elections. Even those who survived Boko Haram's attacks on Saturday were said to have continued on their way to the polling stations. On this day, Nigerians have taken a clear stand against terror.

Yes, there were assaults on voters and polling stations. But considering the massacres and threats of the last weeks, it's also cause for relief.

A long way to go

Looking back, the postponement of the elections by six weeks turned out to have been the right decision. It was probably good for the credibility of the polls that the election commission had the time to hand out the rest of the registration IDs that had not yet been distributed in February.

And the Nigerian army has finally started the long overdue great offensive against Boko Haram, apparently under pressure from neighboring states. They actually managed to chase the terrorists from all larger cities, but the question remains of why the elections had to be postponed for this to happen.

Unfortunately, experience has shown that a more or less peaceful election day in Nigeria doesn't make for a peaceful ending. The coming days are of the essence. Four years ago, riots after the elections, which seemed to be initiated by invested groups in the country's north, cost 1,000 people their lives.

The large majority of Nigerians doesn't want violence, no matter whether it's for religious or political reasons. One can only hope that the politicians respect their wish this time around.

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