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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 09:24 GMT 10:24 UK
Nigeria election diary - part III
BBC News Online's Joseph Winter is in Nigeria, covering the national assembly, presidential and state governor elections. He is keeping a diary of his travels around the country, which he is updating regularly.

Abuja :: 24 April :: 0400GMT

I'm just about to go to the airport to catch the flight to London, so this is my last entry.

Despite my occasional moan, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Nigeria.

I know it's corny but I do feel that I should thank everyone who's helped to make my trip so interesting in so many ways.

From the owner of the internet cafe in Port Harcout who stayed open late so I could send my reports to all the people I have interviewed, especially those waiting patiently to cast their ballots in both parliamentary and presidential elections.

And of course, all my BBC colleagues in Nigeria, who have helped me so much.

And yes, even the policemen looking for their "dash" and the taxi-driver whose vehicle broke down.


Abuja :: 23 April :: 1800GMT

Just spent about an hour trying to log on - even at the hotel's business centre, it took about 20 minutes.

It seems that nearly all of Nigeria's ISPs have gone down at the same time.

At least this will be almost the last time I have to endure such problems in accessing the internet.

But mobile phones are still going strong here.

The text campaign led by Muhammadu Buhari's election team has not ended with the announcement of the official results.

My colleague, Manir Dan-Ali, was sent this on his phone: "If the September 11 US bombing is referred to as 911, then should Nigeria's April 19 elections be referred to as 419?"

419 is the name given to the notorious scams, often perpetrated by Nigerians trying to con gullible and greedy businessmen out of millions of dollars.


Abuja :: 23 April :: 1200GMT

I finally made it to the swimming pool and it was gorgeous. For some 30 minutes, the stress of these elections and the suffocating heat of Abuja was being wiped away by the cool water.

In fact, my editor no doubt knowing that if I didn't get the chance, I would never let him forget how he had made me slave away during this trip, ordered me to go swimming.

I'm very glad he did.


Abuja :: 23 April :: 0900GMT

One of the little noticed aspects of the presidential election has been the relatively strong showing of a woman - Sarah Jibril.

She came in sixth place out of 20 candidates and for a long time was running fourth, behind the top three heavyweights.

This previously unknown politician got a similar number of votes to some prominent Nigerians, such as Gani Fawehinmi and Ike Nwachukwu.

Sarah Jibril
Strong showing in Rivers State
She told my colleague, Pete Lewenstein, from BBC Network Africa, that she was surprised at how well she had done - particularly in Rivers State.

In fact, of the 157,329 votes she recorded, 91,594 were in Rivers State.

She gained 4% of the official votes cast there - more than the main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari.

Rivers State was where many serious irregularities occurred, so we were intrigued.

We noticed that her party, the Progressive Action Congress came next to the ruling People's Democratic Party on the ballot paper, as parties were listed in alphabetical order.

Next, we realised that her party symbol, a tree, with round bushy branches and a straight trunk, resembled an umbrella, the PDP symbol, used by many people to recognise the ruling party.

Either Mrs Jibril enjoys remarkably strong support in Rivers State, or, more likely, those engaged in stuffing the ballot boxes got a bit tired by the end of the day and started getting confused.

Mr Obasanjo got more than 90% of the vote in Rivers State as it was, so I don't suppose those who organised the exercise will mind too much.


Abuja :: 23 April :: 0030GMT

Well, now I know why we were kept waiting for so long.

I'm just glad I didn't succumb to the temptation to swap the sweltering media centre for the hotel just before the night of high drama unfolded.

I can see the swimming is just not going to happen.


Abuja :: 22 April :: 1930GMT

The media results centre of Nigeria's electoral commission is getting extremely hot and sweaty.

More than 100 journalists and their energy-generating equipment have been waiting here for three hours for the official confirmation of the results of Nigeria's presidential election.

Early on today President Olusegun Obasanjo met the requirements to win the election, that is he had an unassailable lead and he received at least 25% of the votes in more than two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states.

But only the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) has the power to declare him the winner.

We do not know the cause of the delay, but we are getting uneasy, tired and frustrated at the long wait.

Earlier on I was extremely impressed with the Inec website, which posted election results speedily and transparently.

But now I feel I am back to the usual routine of African elections of waiting for electoral officials to announce the results.

For the fifth time this evening there has been a flurry of activity, maybe this time our wait, and the wait of all Nigeria, is finally over.

Abuja :: 22 April :: 1400GMT

The early morning excitement at the BBC Abuja office has subsided.

It had looked as though the official announcement of President Obasanjo's victory would be made pretty soon, with results in from 96% of the electoral districts.

We could then finally move on to the next part of the story - how the opposition will react.

But now, the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) has said it will hold a press briefing at 1800 local time.

Maybe we'll pass the time by having some "Suya" extremely tasty grilled meat with chilli pepper and onions, which is the current favourite of the BBC office.

I've had several Nigerian dishes at the hotels I've stayed at, which have generally been lovely - pounded yam with okra sauce and fish.

Except once in Port Harcourt, when I forgot to ask if the sauce was very spicy - and it was.

Luckily the fish was really succulent and the pepper had also penetrated the skin.

But Suya is the major culinary discovery so far.


Abuja :: 22 April :: 1200GMT

Oh well, so much for all my plans.

With little doubt remaining about the outcome of the presidential election, the idea was to write one last piece this morning before finally discovering the joys of the hotel swimming pool and flying back to cold, grey London tomorrow.

But no, my editor wants to squeeze one extra piece out of my time here, so the swimming is once again on hold.

And today is such a hot, sticky day - ideal for swimming. Just walking the few hundreds yards from my hotel to the BBC office, admittedly carrying my laptop, left me covered in sweat.

Still, I'll be complaining about the cold and rain in a couple of days.


Abuja :: 21 April :: 1900GMT

Amongst the hundreds of election observers here, I bumped into an official from Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

"So the election here was better than in Zimbabwe," I observed.

"Better in some places, worse in others," he replied.

And he was right. There were no constituencies which voted 100% for President Robert Mugabe, hard as he and his supporters tried.

But on the other hand, most observers in Nigeria say the irregularities in the south and east will probably not alter the outcome - President Olusegun Obasanjo would still have won.

In Zimbabwe however, the violence and disenfranchisement of urban voters may well have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for Mr Mugabe.

My general impression during my stay here is that the image that Nigerians have abroad of being obnoxious, overbearing and short-tempered is undeserved.

Just about everyone I have met has been charming and polite - even Abuja's Wuse street market was pretty relaxed.

But I have now witnessed the other side to the Nigerian character - at press conferences in Abuja.

On Sunday, journalists argued incessantly with an extremely polite and pressured female employee of the electoral commission, who was trying to move them from seats reserved for commission staff.

One even broadcast live on the radio that he was being chased out of his seat.

And this afternoon, I thought there would be a riot when one observer group handed out its press releases.

Nobody would wait for one minute and I pitied the poor man who was desperately trying to prevent his precious documents from being torn to shreds by all the grabbing hands.

Maybe stressed and overworked journalists travel more than other Nigerians.

But having said that, I do admire journalists who put up with the terrible communications here and travel to remote parts of the country to investigate stories.

During this election, I have seen that it really can take two or three days to verify reports of violence and even deaths in the creeks of the Niger Delta or inaccessible parts of the north.

Which means that by the time the story is confirmed, London-based editors and producers may turn down the story offer.

"Sorry, if it happened last week, it's no longer news. Why did you take so long to check it out?"

I'll certainly do my best to be extremely understanding to Nigerian journalists when I return to London.

But I'll try to steer clear of any more press conferences. I suppose it's been a long, tiring election for everyone.


Abuja :: 21 April :: 0900GMT

Well, the sudden rush of results yesterday afternoon meant I still haven't made it to the hotel swimming pool.

Neither have I explored Nigeria's nightlife but then again, I am supposed to be here on a working trip.

It was quite exciting at the Independent National Election Commission (Inec) media centre, watching the results come in and being updated instantly on their website.

But it was all happening so fast that as soon as I'd finished sending the results through to London, new results would come in and I'd have to start again from scratch.

For giving the election results immediately, transparently and internationally, the Inec website is amazing.

It is certainly far more efficient than the announcement of results in other African elections I've covered, when you have to wait for hours for a tired official to come in to a news conference and read out a long list of numbers.

And if you explore the depths of the site, which give the results for each Local Government Area or constituency, it also highlights some of the irregularities.

Such as Abua-Odual in Rivers State, where 100% of the almost 80,000 votes cast were for President Olusegun Obasanjo.

I'm sure that some politicians feel that the website gives a little too much transparency.


Abuja :: 20 April :: 1400GMT

At last, the first results. Excitement runs through the BBC office.

But as soon as we hear the first results, showing Muhammadu Buhari ahead, some more results come in, which give Olusegun Obasanjo an early lead.


Abuja :: 20 April :: 1030GMT

Well, the election media centre is almost as sleepy as the rest of the capital on Easter Sunday.

No official results have been announced yet. An official from the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) says there may be a press conference 'much later' in the day.

There are a few journalists lazing around on the chairs watching television. Others are using the computers to look at the Inec website, just in case some results have surreptitiously been posted.

Even the BBC Abuja office, which was such a manic place yesterday, as programmes were being organised and broadcast in English, Hausa, Arabic, Somali and Swahili, is locked this morning.

I'm sure that just like journalists, politicians are also happy to take a short break between voting day and the announcement and then reaction to the results.

Except of course for those who are busy scrutinising the counting, transport and collation of the votes around the country.

Maybe today is the day to discover the swimming pool.

Just my luck. The sky is full of dark clouds as a storm approaches.


Abuja :: 19 April :: 1930GMT

It's been a very long, tiring but thoroughly enjoyable day and I'm exhausted.

I think I'll leave the election officials to watch out for results overnight and see where they are in the morning.

A group of us from the BBC are staying at the same hotel. We keep on saying how nice it would be to take advantage of their swimming pool but only one of us, a radio studio manager, has made the time yet.

I'm determined to swim off the election sweat before I go back to London...


Abuja :: 19 April :: 1530GMT

The determination to vote shown by some people is really astonishing.

At one polling stations I visited in Nassarawa State, there were still some 300 people waiting patiently in line at 1500 local time, when polling was due to end.

Those who were already in the queue were allowed to vote and police officers stood at the end of the line, to make sure no-one else joined the queue.

Those at the head of the queue at 1500 said they had been waiting since 0700 but they were not angry at their wasted day.

One man said that he had gone home to have lunch, while others had kept his place for him.

The campaign for opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari has gone hi-tech, with text messages buzzing around, with his picture and "Vote ANPP". Others have long stories about how the hunter from Daura (Buhari) is going to capture the gorilla (Obasanjo).

One of his campaign issues, along with too much corruption, unemployment and crime and not enough water or electricity, is that mobile phones are too expensive.

With the results now being counted, we will soon know how this appeal has gone down with Nigeria's voters.


Abuja :: 19 April :: 1100GMT

Outside one polling station, a group of young men were playing football near the queues of voters.

Some of the footballers said they were not voting because they no confidence in the electoral system, others that they had been unable to register or that they had registered to vote outside Abuja and so could not vote in the capital.

In the regions, there is total chaos in the troubled southern oil city of Warri, where no voting has taken place because voting material has not been distributed to polling stations.


Abuja :: 19 April :: 1000GMT

What a difference a week - and a move to the capital - makes.

In Abuja, polling stations opened on time at 0800 local time (0700 GMT), with long queues, despite the overnight rain.

Just outside the city in Nyanya, voting started around 0900 (0800 GMT) but this was still much better than last week's four-hour delays in the southern oil town of Port Harcourt.

As a consequence, the atmosphere is extremely good-natured and everybody seems very happy to speak to journalists.

After I'd finished speaking to voters at one polling station, a police officer came running over to our car, saying an election official wanted to speak to me.

Voting
Polls have been going smoothly in Abuja
I was worried that maybe I'd broken some electoral law but no, the official just wanted his picture taken.

I duly obliged.

The only exception to the peaceful atmosphere came when one polling official decided at 0755 to split the queues according to people's surnames.

Those who had waited patiently since 0600 refused and the official gave up.

But not everyone had to queue. When voting started at 0900, the chief of Nyanya stood up and walked straight to the front of the women's queue to cast his ballot.

Nobody protested.

He also took back his first ballot paper because there was a drop of water on it. He was given a second one.

In last week's parliamentary polls, many ballot papers were rejected because people's thumb-prints straddled the dividing lines between different candidates on the ballot papers.

It was noticeable from the few polling stations we visited that Christians were voting for President Obasanjo, while Muslims wanted change, with Muhammadu Buhari.

But Nigerian radio reported that some two million Seventh Day Adventists will not vote today, because they mark Saturday as the Sabbath, when secular activities, such as voting, are banned.

In another example of the importance of religion here, state television devoted the first half of its main new bulletin last night to the celebration of Good Friday.

Today's landmark elections were only mentioned after 15 minutes.


Abuja :: 18 April :: 1300GMT

Survived another hair-raising drive across central Nigeria.

A big sign warning people against overtaking near the brow of hills seems to be routinely ignored.

One driver of a red Mercedes seemed to have a particular death-wish, overtaking slow-moving lorries just ahead of several blind corners.

Amazingly, the only damage was to my nerves.

Today's taxi driver was a bit less generous than my last one. He only paid one bribe out of the three roadblocks we passed.

One frustrated policeman took his revenge by pulling the car over and wasting 10 minutes of our time by enquiring who owned which bag in the boot.

I witnessed a rare sight in Nigeria these days - getting petrol from a petrol station.

But because of the general fuel shortages, the driver filled up a jerry can, which he kept under his seat. As I was sitting next to him, I still have the fumes clogging up my nostrils.

I was glad to be out of the petrol station though.

The pump was turned on by the attendant connecting two wires protruding from the side.

But I suppose that is still safer than pouring petrol from jerry cans into the car through plastic pipes or even a paper funnel, which is a common sight by the side of Nigeria's roads.

Petrol is easily available, just on the black market, at four times the official price and in rather dangerous conditions.


Jos :: 18 April :: 0900GMT

Jos certainly has two souls - one Christian and one Muslim.

The two communities live separate lives and view each other with considerable distrust.

Religion is extremely important for all the Nigerians I have met, whatever their faith.

It is remarkable that in the heart of the poorest slums, the only new, solid buildings being constructed of any size are either churches or mosques.

And road sides are full of adverts for a baffling array of churches, with names such as "Broken chains chapel - rebuild your destiny."

With so much religion around, it is strange that religious clashes so frequently lead to the loss of hundreds of lives, when both faiths teach peace and tolerance.

I spent the start of Good Friday with a deeply committed Christian, who tried to convince me of the error of my secular ways and "see the light of the Lord".

And when I interviewed a Muslim cleric, he also tried to convert me, offering the prospect of having three wives.

My wife need not worry, I politely declined his generous offer.


Jos :: 17 April :: 1400GMT

I'm enjoying Jos tremendously.

The climate helps. Jos is a bit cooler than elsewhere in the country, sitting on a high plateau and I seem to have brought the rain with me from Abuja.

The steep rocky slopes, enormous cacti and bright red flamboyant trees are completely different to the dry bush around Abuja and the humidity and rain-forest green of the vegetation of the southern coastal areas.

Nigeria really is an enormous place and I have not even been to the north.

The political, religious and ethnic mixture also makes it extremely interesting to chat to people about the elections.

People seem happy to talk to journalists but there is a certain amount of tensions after riots between Muslims and Christians in 2001, which left more than 1,000 people dead.

The two communities remain fairly divided and I was warned against taking photographs in the Muslim parts of town in case it caused trouble.

I've been asking people about the relationship between politics and religion and whether Muslims will vote for Muslims candidates and Christians for Christians.

One taxi driver had an interesting view.

"I'm a committed Christian, so I don't bother with politics, it's too dirty," he said.

"A Christian cannot become a politician, where you have to say that white is black and black is white."

But many others said they would be voting for the candidate, rather than the party, showing a certain level of political sophistication.


Jos :: 17 April :: 1030GMT

When I got back to the hotel half an hour before the big Arsenal football match was due to kick off, I was overjoyed to see the power was now on and that they had an enormous satellite dish.

However, when I flicked through the TV channels in my room, there was no sign of any football. Apparently the decoder had broken.

I couldn't believe that after staying in several hotels across Nigeria all of which had live English football matches - via a South African satellite channel - I was unable to watch the big game of the season.

English football is big in Nigeria where fans support different teams sides and follow their progress avidly.

Even in a tiny rural village in rural Ogoniland, I saw a blackboard with adverts written in chalk promoting the FA cup semi-finals.

At about 2300 local time, I persuaded the duty manager to let me try to log on to the internet, but I was unable to get a connection - and it sounds like I missed an eventful match.


Jos :: 16 April :: 1800GMT

I now encountered Nigeria's infamous power cuts for the first time.

The other hotels I have stayed at have had generators, so there is only a brief period of darkness when the electricity supply cuts outs before the generator supply takes over and the lights come back on.

But the hotel I am staying at, which I was told was the best in Jos, does not seem to have a generator.

So I have had to seek a cyber cafe with a generator in the town in order to log on and send my diary.

So far, Jos has opened my eyes even wider, to the problems most ordinary Nigerians have to contend with.

Now I just hope that the power comes on at my hotel in time for the big match.


Jos :: 16 April :: 1400GMT

Today, I probably crossed the strict BBC security advice for Nigeria and travelled by public transport for the first time.

I took a place in Africa's favourite car - the seven-seater Peugeot 504, which seats nine people here.

At first, I was surprised how well organised the Abuja "motor park" - taxi rank/bus garage - was.

I got a receipt and a list of travellers' names is kept, which may be useful for identification purposes if there's an accident.

Judging by all the wrecks we passed on the road to Jos, they're probably used quite frequently.

Travelling in private taxis and BBC vehicles until now, I had not witnessed the notorious corruption of Nigeria's police force.

But the taxi-driver certainly knew how things worked.

As we were going round a bend in the road, he started slowing and reached down into the pocket of his door.

After the bend, I saw the roadblock - a policeman and two soldiers, armed with machine-guns.

The policeman saw the vehicle approaching and planted himself squarely in the middle of the road with his palm up, motioning for us to stop.

The taxi-driver continued to slow down but was still travelling at about 10km/hour as he slipped a 200 naira ($1.50) note into the policeman's hand.

"Hello," the officer said enthusiastically before we sped off again.

This exchange was repeated three times on the 300km trip and the driver is prepared, with a handy stash of notes in the pocket of his car door.

But any pity I had for him for having to pay such frequent taxes quickly disappeared when our car came to a grinding halt in the middle of a tiny village.

An electrical problem.

The driver and the male passengers gathered around the engine cleaning various wires and connections but to no effect.

Although the village contained maybe 50 houses, a young mechanic soon appeared.

But he, too, had no luck.

They identified what they thought was the faulty part and stopped one of the many passing Peugeot 504s to see if the suspect piece worked in the other car.

It did, so they were still no closer to solving the problem.

After about an hour stuck in the blazing midday sun (mad dogs, Englishmen and stranded taxi passengers), we were getting restive and about to start pressing the driver to put us in another car, which have led to an interminable argument, as he would have lost his payment.

But the driver and the local mechanic continued to poke around under the bonnet and suddenly the engine roared back into life - I'm sure the hungry, waiting policemen were getting just as anxious as we were.


Abuja :: 16 April :: 0900GMT

After two days in the capital, the positive impressions are starting to wear off.

The roads are wide and empty and the buildings tall and shiny, but I haven't found the city's soul and I'm not sure if a purpose-built capital populated by civil servants and officials really has one.

Lagos may be chaotic but there is a certain vibrancy about the place - though the roads there may be a little too vibrant at times.

I'm now trying to find out how to get to Jos, my next stop.

It's a three-hour drive away up into the mountains and is one of the most divided cities and states - ethnically and politically - in Nigeria.

I have to admit my thoughts are also turning to the big league title showdown match tonight involving Manchester United and my team Arsenal - and whether I'll be able to find a TV showing it live in Jos.


Abuja :: 15 April :: 1400GMT

I still haven't been able to link my lap-top to my mobile phone and logging on to the net is a major headache due to Nigeria's terrible phone network.

The internal phone system of the fairly plush hotel I'm staying at is so bad that I can connect to the net but not download any pages. The message I get is: "The page cannot be displayed".

So I tried at the hotel's business centre.

It took an hour-and-a-half to read two pages and send four e-mails.

And it cost $15 for the pleasure.

Despite the high cost and slow speeds, internet cafes are springing up across Nigeria.

Like everywhere else, students use the net for research and to keep in touch with distant friends and relatives.

And I did also notice a link to a porn site on the hotel's computer.

But communications in Nigeria have been revolutionised over the past two years by the arrival of mobile phones. Increasing numbers of people have handsets, not just the super rich.

It's just that the super rich have three phones - one for each network - because calling from one network to another is nigh-on impossible.

And even the street vendors have benefited, as top-up cards have become the fastest selling commodity for the young boys who swarm around cars stuck in traffic trying to earn a tiny commission on whatever they can sell.


Abuja :: 15 April :: 1100GMT The capital, Abuja, is, literally, a breath of fresh air after Lagos and Port Harcourt.

The wide, empty roads of the new, purpose-built capital, lie in stark contrast to the dirty, noisy, smelly overcrowded streets in the south.

The enormous, spacious, glistening buildings could be from a different planet to the bustling, run-down shanty-towns which line the roads of Lagos and Port Harcourt.

Abuja seems to have been meticulously planned, whereas new shacks and old buildings seem to rise up from the ground of Lagos and Port Harcourt in all shapes and at all angles and wherever there is room.

And sometimes where there isn't.

I fully understand why the government wanted to move here.


Abuja :: 14 April :: 2000GMT

I think I'm starting to understand how things work in Nigeria - or rather how to get round the fact that they don't.

This morning, I had two missions: to interview someone from the Niger Delta Development Commission and to get a flight from Port Harcourt to Abuja.

Unfortunately, nobody at the hotel I was staying at knew how to get a phone number for the NDDC or how to find out about flights. So I had to go round to the NDDC offices and the Presidential Hotel, where the airlines have offices, in person.

I was slightly dismayed to see a sign at the NDDC office reading, "Visiting days Tuesday and Thursday only. Others days, entry by appointment only."

But nevertheless I managed to get in, with the help of my BBC press card and met head of corporate affairs Anietie Usen, a charming man.

He quickly set up an interview with the NDDC managing director, Godwin Omene.

After a long interview, I went round to the Presidential Hotel, only to find out that I had missed the last direct flight to Abuja.

High-speed ride

The only option was to go via Lagos and the last flight was in just two hours' time. The taxi driver assured me that we did have enough time to check out of my hotel and make the flight but he did not warn me that I should close my eyes for the one hour trip to the airport.

Lagos street scene
Driving in Nigeria can be a hair-raising experience
Driving in Lagos and Port Harcourt is pretty hair-raising at the best of time, with cars overtaking on the left or right, wherever there is space on the road, usually accompanied by some vigorous horn-honking to say: "I'm coming through, out of my way".

On top of the cars and buses are the motorbike taxis and their foolhardy drivers and passengers who weave in and out of the traffic, even when moving at high-speed.

And many of Port Harcourt's streets are constricted at the moment by long queues of cars waiting for petrol along the roadside.

But when you are in a rush, negotiating the traffic becomes a real heart-in-the-mouth affair. At one point, I opened my eyes as we were overtaking a lorry, only to see a minibus taxi racing headlong towards us.

The taxi driver calmly honked his horn and swerved milliseconds before disaster struck.

After several similar near-misses, we finally arrived at the airport with just enough time to buy a ticket and catch the plane before the plane was scheduled to take-off.

But fifteen minutes later, we were still stuck on the ground with travellers more accustomed to airline timetables running, or in some cases calmly walking, over the tarmac to the plane.

Then we were delayed by an hour a quarter at Lagos airport because of heavy air traffic but we did finally arrive safely in Abuja.

Nigerians are used to the infrastructure, such as electricity, telephones, water and roads not functioning properly and struggle on as best they can.

Despite the rather brash and overbearing image many other Africans, as well as Westerners, have of Nigerians, those I have met generally put up with all the obstacles placed in their way with a weary shrug of the shoulders and a wry smile.

As a journalist with deadlines to meet and a vast country to explore, it is extremely difficult for me to follow suit. But I'm trying.





NIGERIA'S ELECTION

KEY STORIES

ISSUES

PROFILES

 

AROUND THE COUNTRY

 

ELECTION DIARY


BACKGROUND


HAVE YOUR SAY



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