Nigeria’s presidential and federal legislative elections, which took place over the past weekend, were a mix of experiences for voters. While many voted safely despite delays, some experienced logistical failures and problems with voting materials.
More disturbingly, others that we spoke to, like Bina Jennifer Efidi, who lives in the battleground state of Lagos, faced violence at the polls.
When Efidi set out on Saturday, she was eager to vote and optimistic that she would cast her ballot with relative ease at the assigned polling unit near her home in Surulere, Lagos. She arrived at 9 a.m., happy to see people voting in a calm environment, and joined the people waiting in line to vote.
But two hours later she had a bloodied face and deep cuts around her right eye and cheek after a group of men attacked her polling unit with guns and other weapons and struck her with a sharp object she could not identify. She told me the men succeeded in disrupting voting, as voters and poll workers scampered for safety and voting materials were destroyed.
Ahead of the elections, Nigerian authorities stated they had put measures in place to ensure adequate security. Yet when alerted to election violence, the Nigeria Police Force public relations officer suggested that unarmed police officers at polling units could do nothing in such situations.
Nigeria’s elections have historically been fraught with violence and abuses. The 2019 general elections were marred by attacks from government security officers and thugs acting on behalf of politicians. Calls for authorities to make justice and accountability a priority have yielded little or no results.
Prior to this weekend’s elections, Human Rights Watch and others called on the authorities to put in place early warning systems and adequate response mechanisms to ensure voters at the polls would be safe. But the experiences of citizens like Efidi indicate the huge gaps that continue to exist for many voters. Incidents such as this were reported across Lagos and in other states including Rivers, Kogi, Edo, and Imo.
Still, Efidi refused to give up her right to vote. After leaving the hospital, where she received multiple stitches, she returned to the polling unit when calm had been restored and cast her vote.
Elections should not be a risky affair where citizens like Efidi put their lives at risk to vote and have a say in their country’s future. Nigerian authorities need to do more to provide safety and security at the polls.