A voting card and a metal rod for self-defense are both close at hand in Christopher Obiorah’s tiny bookshop but he hopes to use just one of them when Africa’s largest democracy goes to the polls on Saturday, one week after a surprise delay.
Four years after one of Nigeria’s most peaceful elections, heated rhetoric in a tight race threatens a return to violence along fault lines as ancient as this city, the oldest in West Africa. Northerners versus southerners, farmers against herders, the corrupt savaging the poor.
“This is Nigeria. Anything can happen,” the 45-year-old Obiorah said, casually mentioning that his family has machetes at home. “We are ready for them. We are many here. We have done it before.”
Nigerians have waited impatiently for the election that was delayed because of logistical “challenges,” just hours before polls were set to open. It echoed the abrupt power cuts of daily life, with the grind of generators marking the sound of Africa’s most populous country forever revving its engines.
The delay is costly in several ways, Nnamdi Obasi with the International Crisis Group explained. Faith in the electoral commission is shaken. Fewer people might vote, dispirited or broke after rescheduling their lives to travel to their registered location. Monitoring could suffer as “numerous organizations, particularly Nigerian ones, may be reluctant or unable to do it all over again.”