Nigerians made homeless by Boko Haram seen losing vote too
Nigerians fleeing a wave of killings by the Islamist group Boko Haram have already lost loved ones, livelihoods and most of their possessions.
Now they seem likely to lose their vote.
A closely fought presidential election is to be held in a month’s time and the law states people must go home if they want to participate, posing a risk to the credibility of the poll in Africa’s biggest economy.
The electoral commission says it is rushing to distribute voter ID cards to the 1.5 million people who have been displaced, according to an Oxfam estimate, by the insurgents fighting for an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.
But, for many voters the idea of going back to their home constituencies, as they legally must in order to cast their ballots, is too harrowing to contemplate.
President Goodluck Jonathan faces ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari in the February 14 election, and there are grave doubts over whether voting can happen in swathes of the northeast overrun by rebels.
As they are mostly opposition strongholds, Buhari stands to lose out the most.
Modu Yaro is a refugee in one of the camps in the state. He says that when the insurgents entered his village, they all ran and slept in the bush for three days before deciding to leave.
He left his voter’s card behind.
“I didn’t have a voting card here because I registered at Damaturu. The same problem, they chased me out from Damaturu to my home town Geregida, so from there they have chased us out from there so my voting card is with Damaturu people, Yobe state,” he said.
Jonathan has been criticised for not doing enough; and often not saying enough about relentless Boko Haram attacks that have killed thousands of civilians, kidnapped hundreds and pose the greatest security challenge to Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.
His administration was seen as slow to react when the insurgents abducted some 200 schoolgirls last April.
The group’s fighters seized the military base and town of Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, on January 3.
Baga was the headquarters of a multinational force with troops from Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
Bala Abubakar says he will vote for a candidate that he hopes will restore calm to the North-East.
“Because of this riot, I have come to Yola and I want to vote now for Buhari to be our president, so maybe the things that are happening may calm down,” said Abubakar.
The independent electoral commission (INEC) hopes it can find a away around the law, which parliament at the end of last year ruled out modifying.
Giving out ID cards in refugee camps was itself a departure from the normal rules.
Nearly half of all registered voters nationwide have yet to receive new voter identification cards, the commission said on Tuesday (January 13), raising questions about preparations for the vote with just a month to go.
On Monday (January 12), INEC set up tents on a large sandy field just inside the entrance of Modibbo Adama University of Technology in Yola to hand out voter cards for the insurgent-controlled area of Madagali.
Each tent represented a different ward.
For another insurgent-controlled area, Michika, five schools were designated for card retrieval.
The hand-out will last until Saturday night.
To illustrate the size of the problem, in Adamawa state, five Boko Haram-controlled local authorities account for 356,680 voters.
At a table piled up with voter cards bound together, volunteers sorted them and read out names to those waiting, but INEC is yet to figure out what to do on polling day.
The first time Boko Haram attacked Daniel Dunya’s village, dozens of heavily armed men stole all the cattle and kidnapped several women.
The second time they burned down churches and many houses.
By the time they came back for a third go, abducting girls and killing the men, he was ready to leave.
“The nation has to be in peace so that we can go to our villages and settle and then we may consequently vote for somebody who has sympathy, has the capability of assisting the nation,” he said.
Dunya’s home lies near the town of Gwoza, in mountains controlled by Boko Haram near the Cameroon border, an area over which the militants have declared an Islamic state.
Hajaratu Tumba, a farmer, looks puzzled when asked about the coming election, she hadn’t given it much thought.
“When they attacked my village, they killed the men and told the women they were going to convert us. I ran and ran and ran. I stayed in the bush for three days with no food or water. I came here with nothing – just myself,” she said.
A month before presidential elections in Nigeria, Boko Haram has seized swathes of new territory. It has killed hundreds of people in northern Nigeria, displaced several thousand more and seized the base of a regional military taskforce meant to fight it.
The fall of Baga this month, where as many as 2,000 people are reported to have been killed, led to increased calls for international support to halt an insurgency that has spread from northern Nigeria to threaten parts of Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
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