updated 10/25/2006 11:52:13 AM ET 2006-10-25T15:52:13

Flat batteries and malfunctioning machines were just some of the problems facing Nigeria’s electoral body as it began registering voters on Wednesday ahead of next April’s landmark elections.

Nigerians are due to elect their president, state governors and lawmakers in polls that should mark the first democratic handover to a new government since Africa’s most populous country gained independence from Britain in 1960.

“I am here to register because I want to vote and I want my vote to be counted. If there is rigging I want to see it and I want to complain so that my vote will count,” said James Wells, a 36-year-old graphic artist waiting to register in the capital.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) expects to register between 60 and 70 million voters at about 12,000 designated locations by the Nov. 30 deadline, said spokesman Segun Adeogun.

Uphill battle
It is a daunting task. Most of Nigeria’s estimated 140 million people live in rural areas where there are no paved roads or electricity. The cities are overcrowded and chaotic.

As well as the logistical problems, Nigeria has a history of vote rigging and political violence. Many Nigerians are doubtful that INEC is up to the challenge of delivering a clean election.

“Even if I register does it make any difference? Whether you vote or you don’t vote, they give power to who they want,” said Patrick Ozumba, 36, a telephone recharge card vendor.

To reduce the risk of rigging, INEC has opted to register voters using machines that can record thumbprints and mugshots, making it impossible for anyone to register more than once.

Waiting for a technician
“By the time the data goes through our system, anyone who has registered more than once will be flushed out of the register because they are dubious characters,” said Adeogun.

He said INEC planned to use 30,000 of the foreign-made machines, but he could not say how many of these had arrived in Nigeria or been distributed to the 36 states.

The Daily Trust, the main newspaper of northern Nigeria, reported that just 17 machines had arrived in Bauchi state out of more than 1,000 that were needed. Central Benue state had just 11 out of more than 3,000 needed, according to the Trust.

The high-tech plan is fraught with other difficulties.

At one registration desk, on the street outside a school in central Abuja, INEC officials were taking down voters’ details manually. Their machine had been delivered with low batteries so they had sent it straight back to headquarters for recharging.

At another desk, in the shade of a tree outside an eye clinic, officials were waiting for a technician to come and fix one of the components.

A third desk, inside a primary school, had a functioning machine and officials had registered four voters and delivered temporary cards to them in the course of the morning.

Long way to go
One man had to leave the print of his index finger because the machine would not record his thumbprint. Asked whether this would not allow the man to register elsewhere using his thumbprint, officials said the system would prevent that but could not explain how.

Adeogun said INEC had mobile technical teams who would fan out across the country to ensure that machines worked and batteries were charged. But the experience in Abuja, by far the most organized city, suggested this would not be easy.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.


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