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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Nigeria election diary

BBC News Online's Joseph Winter is in Nigeria, covering this month's national assembly, presidential and state governor elections. He is keeping a diary of his travels around the country, which he is updating regularly.

Port Harcourt :: 14 April :: 1300GMT

There's been no sign of any violence today, despite opposition anger over the poll results.

However, I had another reminder of how difficult it is for the opposition in Nigeria when I visited the Niger Delta Development Commission.

The NDDC was set up in a blaze of publicity two years ago in order to use oil money for the benefit of people who live in Nigeria's nine oil-producing states.

After two years of building schools and health clinics and other development projects, the first one opened its doors for the first time last month.

By remarkable coincidence the NDDC started commissioning 253 projects just last month.

By another remarkable coincidence the chairman of the NDDC is President Obasanjo's publicity manager.

Port Harcourt :: 13 April :: 2330GMT

The election results for most of Port Harcourt and the surrounding Rivers State have been announced and the ruling People's Democratic Party has won by a landslide.

In the Abua/Odua/Ahoada East federal constituency, the PDP gained a staggering 139,632 votes against 555 to the main opposition All Nigerian People's Party.

With just a few results left to come from the state, the PDP has almost 90% of the vote and despite the long delays we saw the official turnout approached 95% of registered voters.

But even the authorities said there had been too much violence for voting to take place in the Etche local government area.

"We do not accept these results. The vote was marred by shooting, intimidation and the late arrival of voting materials," ANPP Rivers State spokesman Ipalibo Botoye told BBC News Online.

He said that four ANPP activists had been shot during the voting and that in some areas PDP activists had fired guns in the air to scare away potential opposition voters.

Nevertheless, Mr Botoye said he was not expecting any protests from ANPP activists on Monday.

'They have the guns'

His anger was already being diluted by the thought of next Saturday's presidential and governor elections where far more power is at stake.

Voting in Port Harcourt
The results suggested nearly everyone voted - and backed the PDP
"We are going to protest on a national level in Abuja," he said.

"In any case, there is nothing we can do. They have all the guns."

But he warned that the 19 April polls must be better organised.

Of course this could just be sour grapes and maybe the PDP is hugely popular in the Rivers State.

They certainly seem to have the biggest party buildings in both Port Harcourt and the Ogoniland town of Bori - an hour's drive away.

But at the polling stations I certainly met a lot of people who were insisting that this state, and Nigeria as a whole needed a change of government.

They may not be happy at the way Nigeria's election marathon has started.

Port Harcourt :: 12 April :: 2300GMT

I saw a lot of angry people - mostly from the opposition ANPP. They were accusing the ruling PDP of trying to rig the elections.

Nobody knew where anything should be - lots of ballot boxes were missing.

Some people said they should be counted at the government office where we were but the election official said the ballots should be counted at the polling stations.

The elections officials didn't know where most of the boxes were.

We saw one group of angry ANPP supporters driving a minibus full of ballot boxes to their government office without any security or elections officials with them.

Due to that anger people are afraid of what might happen when the results are announced.

Port Harcourt :: 12 April :: 1800GMT

Mystery continues over the sporadic gunshots I clearly heard as polling stations were due to close. It lasted on and off for some 30 minutes.

Other people had also reported them and yet the Commissioner of Police for Rivers State, Sylvester O Araba, said he had received no official reports of violence and that no party had made any official complaints.

However, he also played down the earlier arrests, saying that just five people had been detained, while we counted 19 suspects lined up on the tarmac outside the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) state headquarters.

At the time, a police officer clearly said 20 people had been arrested.

Voting was extended in many polling stations across Port Harcourt due to the delayed start. Some stayed open until 1800 local time - a three-hour extension.

But as a thunderstorm burst overheard, the mood at some polling stations also darkened.

At one counting centre, the representatives of some of the 30 parties contesting these elections were united - in condemning Inec.

They had counted the ballots and, remarkably, all agreed on the results.

But they could not find the returning officer for that ward, nor any official results sheet.

They were all deeply suspicious and vowed to stay with the counted ballot papers until the result they had found had been officially recorded.

"Without the results sheet, everything we have been doing is in vain," said one angry young man.

I initially thought it a bit ambitious to attempt to organise four elections in a month.

But maybe by the time that last one comes along, the organisation will have improved.

Port Harcourt :: 12 April :: 1430GMT

The voting was suppose to finish at 1500 local time. Since that time I have heard from my hotel the sound of sporadic gunshots.

One woman came into the hotel and said its politics, they are shooting from every angle.

Port Harcourt :: 12 April :: 1200GMT

So far the legislature election has not gone well.

The first voting I say was at 1200 local time four hours late. Voting was supposed to finish at 1500 local meaning that more than half of the allocated voting time has been lost.

When voting did begin it was completely open, with no privacy.

On the veranda of a school in the city centre in front of a long queue of other voters the election officials asked voters who they wanted to vote for.

The official then placed the voters thumb print on the ballot paper next to his chosen candidate and then placed the paper in the ballot box on their behalf.

But people were most upset about the long delay and some suspect something untoward.

The vote was conducted in secret
"When we come back we will find the voting has finished and they have already announced the result", one man told me.

Officials from the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) say that the delay was due to the large area they had to cover.

They say they worked throughout the night to get material ready and stressed that anyone who wanted to vote would be able to do so.

Police have arrested 20 young men in three groups. They found six live ammunition rounds hidden inside a minibus outside the Rivers State Inec office. Some had fake monitors cards.

Speaking to voters I was reminded how patriarchal African society can be. I wanted to hear what female voters had to say and was speaking to a woman.

Her husband who was sitting in his car across the road immediately called her over. When I explained that I was a journalist asking voters their thoughts about the election he insisted on speaking on behalf of himself and his wife and would not allow her to say a word.

There are no female candidates running for the Port Harcourt seats in the National Assembly.

Port Harcourt :: 11 April :: 2100GMT

Residents of Port Harcourt are getting ready for the elections in different ways.

Some are wary of political violence and are leaving the city for the rural areas, which they hope will be quieter.

During the day, there have been some isolated incidents of violence in one of the most bitterly contested states and regions in the country.

Others are preparing for a relaxing day, as all shops and business must remain closed until voting finishes at 1500 local time.

The local officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) are not expecting to get any sleep tonight. They say they did not sleep on Thursday night either.

The Rivers State Inec office is a bustling hive of activity, as officials prepare to send the election material across the state.

Due to the fears of renewed violence and allegations of rigging, they will be accompanied by tight security.

At around 2000 local time, there were some 20 police cars parked in front, full of machine-gun toting officers.

As for me, I'm exhausted after a long day on the road. It's time for some shut-eye before the big day on Saturday...

Lagos :: 11 April :: 0900GMT

Woke up to a torrential downpour. Glad I'm not out on a boat in Makoko today.

After trying and failing to phone up my colleague from the BBC Hausa Service in the oil capital of Port Harcourt for the whole of yesterday, I finally managed to get through this morning.

Apparently, one of the trunk lines was down yesterday.

He says there is no petrol on Port Harcourt, although the city is near enormous reserves of oil, so getting around might be difficult.

Here in Lagos, the fuel shortages have eased but in the north, as well as Port Harcourt, I hear petrol is still scarce.

As for getting there, the airport does not seem to have a reliable information service.

The hotel where I am staying, told me there was a flight at 1100 but the BBC contact at the airport says there is no flight at 1100, only at 1330.

Now off to the airport to find out who is right. And whether there are any flights at all in this rain.

On top of the lack of fuel and the rain, very few people have so far received their voter cards.

Tomorrow's national assembly elections could be interesting.

Lagos :: 10 April :: 1900GMT

Progress at last. I seem to have been able to send some photos. But still not from the mobile phone.

Now for more problematic communications, trying to contact the BBC Hausa service reporter in my next stop Port Harcourt, Nigeria's oil capital.

This has so far proved almost as difficult as e-mailing photos to London.

Maybe this is what people meant by Nigeria being a difficult place.

Lagos :: 10 April :: 1600GMT

Now back in the BBC Lagos office after a hot, sweaty and extremely smelly tour of Makoko, one of the city's poorer districts.

I have been given some hi-tech equipment for sending photos and reports over a British mobile phone which is supposed to work out here but so far, no joy.

It's extremely frustrating to have lots of information but no way of sending it but I'm now finally logged on through the BBC bureau.

It always sounded a bit ambitious this morning, I could have spent five extremely frustrating hours trying to force the technology to adapt to Nigeria but I thought it would be more fruitful to get out on the campaign trail.

Lagos poster printers are certainly doing a roaring trade, with posters for the candidates for the presidency and state governor covering many walls.

But in Makoko, people were just trying to get enough fish to eat and not fall sick in the appallingly unhygienic conditions which surround them.

Human faeces float in the water, where the fish are caught and where children go swimming.

Shovelling sewage
PDP activists shovel sewage off the streets
The toilets in most shacks consist of a hole in the floor, with some upright planks for a modicum of privacy, leading down to the water below.

Few residents expect the elections to drastically change their lives for the better.

But they say they will vote, in the hope it brings some progress.

Apart from the posters, the only campaigning I saw was from the ruling People's Democratic Party.

A dozen activists were out on the roads around the lagoons, trying to clear them of the diluted raw sewage which was up to two feet deep, causing chronic traffic jams.

A very small drop in an enormous, and very dirty, ocean of work which awaits the winner of next week's poll.

Lagos :: 9 April :: 2100GMT

Whenever I say that I'm going to Nigeria, people react in the same way - their face drops and they warn knowingly: "Nigeria is a very difficult place."

Even Nigerians do not encourage people to visit their homeland.

Surely, it can't be that bad?

But just getting to Lagos has been, how shall I put it - an interesting experience.

Passengers flying from London to Lagos have three times more baggage allowance than most travellers - 64kg each, compared to 20kg on most international flights.

But even this was not enough for some people.

One passenger on my flight gave some bags to another traveller.

Some might see this as a trivial way of avoiding a huge excess luggage bill but in these days of tough airline security regulations, it was treated as a major security scare.

Both passengers were thrown off the flight and, to ensure that neither had left any luggage on board, every single bag on the plane - hand luggage and in the hold - had to be identified by a passenger still on board the plane.

By the time each of the 350-odd passengers on the 747 had tramped down the stairs and on to the tarmac in the mild London drizzle to identify each plastic carrier bag and suitcase, our flight was delayed by more than three hours.

My first contacts with the body in charge of running the elections have also not been promising.

I wanted to find out how many candidates were contesting the presidential election.

Not too difficult, you might think.

For two weeks, I phoned up various officials from the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec), who were always "in a meeting".

Whenever I did manage to get through to someone I'd been told could give me the information, he invariably said: "I'll just get the final list, call back in 30 minutes."

And half an hour later?

"He is not on seat," sighs the receptionist, before abruptly putting the phone down.

In the end, I managed to get hold of an unofficial list, which tallied with one I'd come across on a Nigerian website.

My experience so far has confirmed some of the warnings. But now the real work begins.











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