S Sudan attempts to reign in its “2 Many VIPs” problem

JUBA, Sudan–Greetings all. I’ve been entirely MIA from this blog since my month-long stay in Nigeria, which is now, somehow two months behind me. I spent the past two months in Juba (reporting on Abyei crisis and Southern Sudanese army abuses for the AP and others) and at home in the US, and now, fast forward to the present, independence of Southern Sudan is one week away!

It’s an exciting and busy time here in Juba as the government and southern citizens prepare for a massive celebration to mark their country’s birth next Saturday (I should note that outside of Juba, along the north-south border and particularly in the Nuba Mountains and in the Abyei area, the picture is incredibly bleak and there is nothing whatsover to celebrate over).  Everyday Juba residents, both the locals and the folks like me who have come to call this city home, are now anticipating the arrival of many VIPs, international journalists, and high-flying international delegations from most African nations and from a slew of governments and external actors with a stake in the future of both Sudans.

Scanning SudanTribune.com yesterday while I was visiting his office, a UN friend pointed out an interesting bit of news: the southern government issued a directive Thursday “explaining that the term ‘Excellency’ should only be used for the president and head of foreign missions and embassies.”

In a place that arguably has 2 MANY VIPs, where every Tom, Dick, Harry, village chief, county commissioner, and ministerial under-secretary has acquired the illustrious precursory title of “Excellency,” and where I have routinely dodged over-sized and heavily protected government and army convoys careening through the streets of Juba, I’m not the only one who considers this good news.

In the SudanTribune.com article, a humble civil servant is quoted in approval of the move:

“The decision made by the government to limit the use of ’Excellency’ is encouraging move indeed. The public was not comfortable with the use of Excellency in the public address”, said Deng Akuei Ajou, a senior member of the GoSS.

I agree that–as in any country–all southern officials, statesmen and women, and elders deserve respect in the form of correct usage of their appropriate titles, the Southern Sudanese president, HE Salva Kiir Mayardit, is the only person who should be called “Excellency.”

Expect a revival of this blog in the coming weeks, when I’ll be doing my best to cover the story of Southern Sudan’s birth as the world’s newest country. Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me with comments or thoughts of any sort at maggie.fick at gmail.com.

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My Nigerian elections wrap-up post

(I’m re-posting the below from Christian Science Monitor’s Africa Monitor blog)

By Maggie Fick, Correspondent / April 27, 2011

Shendam, Nigeria–Despite the problems with Nigeria’s parliamentary, presidential, and local elections over the past month, and despite the feeling of many voters that rigging did occur, I have not encountered a single Nigerian voter who says that these polls were not a marked improvement over the 2007 sham polls.

Those elections had demoralized the average citizen and empowered the crooked political elites of Africa’s most populous country.

Late Tuesday night, by the light of single generator-powered bulb held aloft by an enthusiastic voter, I observed one of the success stories from these elections: the hard work and remarkable dedication of young, recent university graduates serving in the country’s National Youth Service Corps.

Joshua, the presiding officer at a polling station in the Plateau State town of Shendam, was one of these youth corps members who had been giving his all for more than 14 hours in order to conduct a credible process at this particular station.

Political party agents at the station insisted that he and his colleagues destroy the unused ballots one by one. Joshua was not required by electoral law to do this. However, knowing that the political party agents were asking him to do it in order to prevent ballot stuffing while the boxes are being transmitted to the collation center and up the chain to the electoral commission, Joshua conceded for the sake of transparency.

This morning, on my drive back to the sterile and well-manicured capital of Abuja, I saw a less positive side of this elections cycle: hyped up youth posing a danger to themselves and other citizens as they chanted their party slogans and scared the other passengers in the beat-up vehicle we were traveling in together.

Upon seeing the youth surging in the street ahead of us, my fellow passengers and I instantly began fearing a “wahala” – a Nigerian synonym for “big problem” – along the lines of the deadly violence that rocked the northern region of the country last week.

We joined the rowdy crowd surrounding our car in shouting their favorite opposition party slogans, hoping they would let us through. Later, I learned these youths were celebrating the likely victory of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change candidate in Nassarawa state, who upset the incumbent from the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

For them – and for others in different local races – these elections proved that the much-touted “change” voters hoped for is possible.

At the same time, as I watched these men take pickaxes to a ruling party billboard on the roadside, I hoped that after this year’s relatively successful elections, the “do or die” politics once embraced by Nigeria’s self-interested political elite is actually on the way out, and not just on hiatus.

Maggie Fick is a Sudan-based journalist covering the Nigerian elections

(I took the above photo is from Shendam on Tuesday night, Joshua is the uniformed elections official on the left.)

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My FP Dispatch from Kano on Post-Elections Violence in Nigeria

This dispatch appeared today @ ForeignPolicy.com:

Thug Democracy

Nigeria is cheering its first legitimate and internationally praised election. But violent protests in the north make it clear just how divided the country still is.


KANO, Nigeria—Brandishing wooden planks and lighter fuel, young men and boys — some hardly taller than the makeshift clubs they were wielding — took to the streets of several northern Nigerian cities Monday, April 18, to protest the emerging results of Saturday’s presidential election. As they waved their clubs, they shouted “Only Buhari! We want change!” echoing the campaign slogans of their fallen candidate, the onetime military ruler of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, who battled the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the April 16 election.

Saturday’s vote marked a first for Africa’s most populous country in its latest chapter of democratic rule. Nigerian and international observers praised it as the only election since 1999 — when the country transitioned to civilian rule after decades of military dictatorship — to break away from a history of chaotic, rigged, and violent polls. Unlike previous occasions, on Saturday there was no ballot stuffing, no “Elvis Presleys” or other fake names on the voters list, no hired thugs stealing ballot boxes from polling stations. Everything was on track — right up to the moment when widespread, deadly violence broke out.

The first rioters flooded the streets Monday morning, as soon as word had spread that the results were expected to favor Jonathan. By the time the electoral commission certified his victory on Monday evening, the protests had calmed slightly, but by Tuesday morning, fighting had erupted once again in Kaduna and the Associated Press reported by midday that “charred bodies” lined the road on the southern outskirts of the city. Violence spread to some 13 northern states throughout the day Monday. The Nigerian Red Cross reported that 16,000 people had fled their homes, afraid that the violence would continue.

Quickly, what was meant to be Nigeria’s first truly legitimate election has begun to look a lot like the clouded ones of the past, even if the votes themselves add up the way they’re supposed to. And it’s not at all clear that the protesters in the north who torched churches, looted vehicles, and smashed billboards are entirely to blame, given the behavior of their leaders in Abuja. More importantly, if Jonathan does not manage to address the broader issues raised by this violence — notably the discontent among northerners with the status quo that includes a huge class of unemployed and marginalized youth — he may find his term as president focused largely on putting out brush fires rather than initiating badly needed reforms.

Security forces in Kaduna, Kano, and smaller northern cities such as Sokoto and Zaria managed to restore calm on Monday by firing live rounds into the air to disperse angry crowds, but not before the youth rioters had torched the homes and vehicles of some actual or perceived supporters of Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party — including the emir’s residence in Kano. In Kaduna, rioters set fire to the electoral commission’s state offices. As the sun set on April 18 in Kano, an ancient Muslim trading center that’s now Nigeria’s second-largest city after Lagos, an eerie calm had settled, but heaps of burned tires and wood remained on the streets.

But it’s far from clear that the police can keep the protesters quiet for long, and indeed protests picked up again on Tuesday. Nor, for that matter, will Nigeria’s politicians be able to quell the discontent. In a country where political elites have so often run roughshod over elections by paying young, uneducated, and unemployed men to do their dirty work at the ballot box and in the streets, those same elites now have little credibility when appealing for calm.

Instead of urging his young supporters to put down their clubs on Monday morning, Buhari and his opposition party, the Congress for Progressive Change, first accused the ruling party of massive vote-rigging in its stronghold in the south. (He has since appealed for calm.) Claims of irregularities may hold some truth, for example in the president’s native Bayelsa state in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Buhari’s camp also alleged, in a letter sent to the Independent National Electoral Commission on Monday, that computer software used for totaling results had been manipulated in northern states. In the 2007 polls, such challenges took some two years in the Nigerian court system to be addressed; it is unclear how long the process could drag on this time.

More than anything, this week’s events offer a potent reminder that elections are merely a first step to democracy. During his short time in office so far, Jonathan — who took power last year after former President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office — staked his reputation on holding a credible vote. But ending corruption at the ballot box was just part of the equation. Clean elections won’t bring an end to local violence unless the country’s leaders fundamentally change course.

This will be Jonathan’s primary challenge as he begins his first full term in office: to start changing a culture of thuggery and corruption that pervades the political elite. Many of the country’s leaders have built their rule on a simple equation: steal money, pay off the most troublesome constituencies, and when it comes time for elections, buy votes. Threats are put down using “divide and rule” tactics learned from Nigeria’s former colonial power, Britain. Ethnicities, religions, and even regions are pitted against one another, elites blaming the poverty of one group on the alleged state benefits garnered by another. This approach has been used on countless occasions to whip up anger among rival communities in the country’s Middle Belt, where reports of sporadic violence have killed thousands over the last decade.

After this latest north-south rupture, Nigeria’s divisions are likely to seem all the more stubborn. Jonathan’s victory essentially signaled the death of the ruling party’s “zoning” agreement, which called for presidential power to rotate between a northerner and a southerner every eight years. When Jonathan, a southerner, took over after Yar’Ardua’s death last year, northerners expected his reign as president to last only until the 2011 elections. Now that Jonathan has been elected for a four-year term, the north feels it has been dealt the bum lot once more. It’s not as though ordinary southerners enjoy many benefits from their regional affiliation, but the perception among millions of northerners that they are second-class citizens will likely continue, if only because northerners do not view Jonathan as an ally.

Many northern voters who waited for hours on Saturday to cast their ballots for Buhari told me they just wanted “change.” Their reasons for this were transparently clear; polling stations were set up in run-down primary schools and next to fetid open sewers. “Where is the money?” asked a 43-year old unemployed father of four, Mohammed Issa Jamal, who holds a linguistics degree and spoke eloquently about the nexus of patronage, politics, and violence in his country. For voters like Jamal, a Muslim man from Kaduna, Buhari’s reputation as a former president who employed sometimes ruthless tactics to rout out corruption from the ranks of his military government is also appealing.

The sheer number of unemployed secondary school and even university graduates in this region also means that the angry young men I saw in the streets on Monday have little to lose. Their leaders have given them no good reason to wait for politics to bring about the change they seek. Nigeria’s big men have rarely proved worthy of ruling their vibrant and intelligent populace, the vast majority of whom hustle every day to get food on the table for their families.

It remains to be seen whether Jonathan can mollify this angry class, but for now he is at least making an effort. Writing on his Facebook page on Saturday, the president vowed that “Do or die” — the frighteningly literal campaign slogan of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, notorious for leading a crony republic — “is dead forever.” In his acceptance speech, he called his political opponents “partners” instead of speaking of them as enemies. But it may still be a stretch for many to see him as a reformer. Jonathan has not been personally accused of involvement in electoral (or other) misdeeds, but many of those around him have. And even as the new president was talking about national unity, Nigerian security forces, deployed to put down the unrest, relied on abusive measures, including public humiliation of those arrested, to quell violence. Such behavior may do little more than create a spark for future uprisings.

Perhaps Nigeria’s greatest hope is that its youth, a new generation far more cosmopolitan, tech-savvy, and quicker to grow frustrated by business as usual in Nigerian politics, will take a stand against corruption. There are plenty of reasons to hope and believe that the younger generation has had enough of being manipulated and used by its politicians and leaders.

In the meantime, perseverance is not a unique quality in Nigeria, as I was reminded on Monday morning by the motorcycle taxi driver who had the misfortune of transporting me to Kano’s main hospital while bonfires blazed around us. Passing me his handkerchief and covering his own mouth with his left hand, he revved his engine and drove into the black smoke, as democracy in Nigeria sputtered along for another day.


 Maggie Fick is a freelance journalist.
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My recent feature on Jos

Below is a feature I wrote that ran last week in the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper:

Fear divides Nigeria’s ‘beautiful city’ of Jos

Maggie Fick

Apr 15, 2011

JOS, NIGERIA // “Welcome to our beautiful, troubled Jos,” Esther Ibanga said wistfully. Sitting in her plush office in this central Nigerian city, the evangelical Christian minister gazed out at the mango trees and rocky escarpments dotting the arid plateau, the view made hazy by the last of the dry, dusty trade winds that blow in from the Sahara each year.
Her description could not be more fitting. Two decades ago, Jos was a cosmopolitan city, home to Muslims and Christians as well as to ethnic Hausa traders from the north and ethnic Igbo businessmen from the East.

After Nigeria gained independence in the early 1960s, missionaries from many corners of the globe and representing Christian denominations of every sort set up their headquarters here. Foreigners working in other Nigerian cities also thronged here for holidays, attracted to its pleasant climate.

Today, Jos is a paralysed and segregated city, where Christians and Muslims are divided into near ghettoes and motorcycle taxi drivers are frequently killed when they venture into the wrong neighbourhood.

With each wave of violence that has swept over Jos, attitudes have hardened further and larger numbers of people have died, in more brutal ways each time. Since 2001, Human Rights Watch estimates that nearly 4,000 men, women and children have been killed with machetes, AK-47s and bombs, or burnt alive.

As in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, there are many divides among the 152 million people of Nigeria: ethnic, tribal, economic, political and religious. However, during periods of escalating tension – as in the case of presidential elections tomorrow when much power and patronage are at stake – it is religion, as well as ethnicity, that become the affiliations around which Nigerians rally with most zeal.

Also, it must be added, with the most calamitous results, when fears for the prosperity, even for the survival, of one’s ethnic group or religion are fomented and manipulated for political ends. Such has often been the case in Jos.

The failure of Nigerian leaders to address intercommunal violence is one of many factors preventing the resolution of the conflict in Jos, said Ignatius Kaigama, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Jos.

Archbishop Kaigama said he is in the minority among both Christian and Muslim religious leaders who have refrained from stoking the crisis through the extreme rhetoric they feel is merited by the fear of being dominated by the other.

In January 2010, Archbishop Kaigama went on local radio to deny a statement made on air by the Jos police commissioner that a Catholic church had been bombed by Muslims. By the time he debunked the story, Christians had already entered Muslim neighbourhoods to begin vicious “retaliatory” attacks.

Each successive killing or attack on a holy place – or rumours of such – reverberate through mosques and churches, regularly bringing tensions in Jos to a breaking point on Fridays and Sundays.

“Talking as a Christian, the problems we have been experiencing are almost beyond man,” Rev Ibanga said. “It’s getting to a point where these problems need divine intervention.”

Jos is rampant with rumours explaining who is running guns, who is paying youth to kill, how the attacks became increasingly well-organised, and when the next explosion will happen.

Last week, a Hausa Muslim motorcycle taxi driver went missing, recounted Mohammed Lawal Ishaq, the head of a Muslim affairs council at the Jaama’atu Nasril Islam mosque in northern Jos. A few days ago, the young man’s corpse was found in a well.

Mr Ishaq, a lawyer, said that the public message delivered by imams at the mosque is that despite the horrific violence his community has suffered, the youths who want to respond must remain peaceful.

“It’s difficult because the youth react,” said Mr Ishaq. His council, however, is overtly political, a self-appointed group of men who like leaders of other religious and ethnic groups in Nigeria carry out a time-honoured practice: directing members of their community how to vote.

With a secure bloc of voters behind him, Mr Ishaq says his council is currently “in negotiations” with two gubernatorial candidates who have pledged to offer more support to the Muslim community than has the current governor, who is widely criticised by the Hausa Muslim community and by moderate Christians for pursuing an exclusionary agenda against Muslims in the state.

“I’m very conscious of the fact that all of the citizens in my state are my responsibility,” said the governor, Jonah Jang, in an interview with The National.

Governor Jang’s interpretation of the constitution and of the history of his state draws a clear line between the “indigene” – mainly Christian people in the central region of Nigeria known as the Plateau – and “settlers” – Hausa Muslims from northern Nigeria and nomadic Fulani cattle herders who migrated or were forced to come to the region to work in tin mines during the period of British colonial rule.

Many of these migrants brought their culture, traditions and language to the area. Today, Hausa is the lingua franca in Jos, and many of the markets are dominated by Hausa traders.

Christian fears of Muslim domination, or another jihad like the 19th-century conquest by Usman Dan Fodio, seem to personally drive Gov Jang, who became an evangelical Christian after he retired from the air force as a one-star general in the early 1990s.

“They still think they can get [the Plateau region] back to Islamicise it,” he said, referring to the “failure” of Dan Fodio’s jihad to conquer the Plateau.

Although Gov Jang asserts that the crisis is not purely religious, he has been accused of perpetuating sectarian strife by denying Muslims from the Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups rights that the Nigerian constitution guarantees them as citizens. His administration has allegedly denied positions in his government, treatment at public hospitals, and places in secondary schools for Muslim children.

Although the governor denies practising anti-Muslim discrimination, his government has repeatedly refused to grant its Hausa and Fulani residents “indigene” certificates, which are required in order to gain access to health care, state education, and other services.

Besides the governor, others appear to have an institutional stake in the conflict.

“Too many people are making too much money off of it,” said a long-time resident of Jos, who detailed the ways in which the government, the military, and religious authorities benefit financially and otherwise from the ongoing insecurity.

To Hadjiya Khadija Gambo Hawaya, a Hausa Muslim women’s leader, the use of religious differences to explain the conflict in Jos is a canard.

“This is madness,” she said. “We must coexist peacefully … the real problem is bad governance.”

Some here recall a more peaceful time.

“Before, the Christians came [to celebrate with the Muslims] on salah and the Muslims came on Christmas,” said Gumbo Adamu, a man from one of the “indigene” ethnic groups on the Plateau who is Muslim, making him a target for attacks from both communities.

Mr Adamu works on a farm outside of Jos that is next to a formerly mixed village that was attacked by armed Christians last year. The remaining residents say that all the Muslim houses were burnt and not a single Muslim person resides in the village.

“The pastors and the imams are causing this crisis,” said Mr Adamu. “When this crisis is over we’ll prosecute all of them.”

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Transparency in Action: Nigeria’s version of CSPAN

Live from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) HQ in Abuja, chairman Professor Attahiru Jega announces the final, official results of Nigeria’s presidential vote:

Good Luck E Jonathan of PDP having satisfied the requirements of the law is hereby declared the winner. Signature of em

To quote Jega (courtesy of the NTA broadcast, photo of which you see above):

With this I have discharged my duties. I want to…assure you that we have discharged our responsibility to the best of our ability on a nonpartisan, impartial basis and we have done our best to satisfy the aspirations of Nigerians, for free fair and credible elections. We will continue to do our best under all circumstances so that we will have free, fair and credible elections in this country. …. May God almighty continue to help us and guide us, thank you very much.

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Kano’s Post-Elections Riots

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KANO, Nigeria–Above are the photos I took while perched in the administrator’s office at the Murtala Muhammad Hospital in the northern city of Kano, as young men wielding wooden planks marched by; as you can see by from the photos, I was not at the center of the street riots, only witness to the scene as wounded young men were brought into the hospital in wheelchairs and over the shoulders of their friends.

I saw the trouble as it started, as I took a motorcycle taxi from a university in town toward the hospital. I saw angry saw young men and boys mobilizing in the street as they begun to set bonfires of tires and wood ablaze, shouting “Only Buhari!” in Hausa and “We want Buhari!” and looking prepared for a fight–despite the fact that all of them were Buhari supporters protesting perceived rigging in the south.

At the hospital, the doctors I spoke with as police fired live rounds into the air to disperse rioters outside the hospital gate were disappointed, to put it lightly, to see the post-elections environment turn ugly. They said the youth were out for trouble and out to loot, and that the situation was not made better by the country’s politicians.

In my opinion, the defeated opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari could have done more to stop the riots as they kicked off this morning across the north. He should know better that allowing his young, unemployed, and disillusioned supporters to protest his defeat through violence on the streets will not change the results of an election that has been deemed largely credible by Nigerian and international observers.

Here is a short piece I filed for AllAfrica.com just now:

KANO — As the results of Nigeria’s largely peaceful vote became clear on Sunday evening, tensions began rising across the vast northern half of the country, which had strongly backed opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari in Saturday’s poll.

By mid-morning on Monday, young men and boys had taken to the streets of several cities, armed with wooden planks and lighter fuel, protesting the victory of the “accidental incumbent” Goodluck Jonathan, who won with what some said were unbelievable margins of more than 99 percent in his home state in the southern oil-rich Delta, while Buhari swept the northern vote. A map of these results is telling: Nigeria’s electorate is deeply divided over their presidential preferences.

Some voters, who turned out peacefully and in force on Saturday, appeared unwilling to accept the results on Monday.

In the historic northern city of Kano the same “ready army” of unemployed youth who have participated in political elite-sponsored rigging of past votes set up checkpoints and demanded that passersby express their preference for Buhari. Later, the protests became riots and young men targeted known supporters of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and burned cars outside the emir of Kano’s house. By late afternoon, a doctor at the Murtalla Muhammad Hospital in Kano told AllAfrica.com that he had seen 10 dead bodies and more than 15 gunshot wound victims in the hospital’s emergency ward.

Violence also struck the northern cities of Kaduna and Zaria, where witnesses said rioters lit bonfires and security forces shot in the air to disperse crowds.

At Murtalla Muhammad Hospital in Kano, a doctor expressed chagrin at the events, saying that the rioters were “out to steal and loot,” and didn’t have “any political ambition.”

The young men may have been drawn to the streets, however, by public statements made by Buhari and his party’s spokesmen, who filed a formal complaint on Monday afternoon to the Independent National Electoral Commission, accusing the ruling party of widespread rigging in the south.

“The results announced so far cannot stand based on the irregularities we have seen,” Buhari’s spokesman Yinka Odumakin told Reuters news agency. “In (the northern states of) Kano and Katsina there were reductions in our vote … We cannot accept these results as announced until cross-checks have been carried out by the electoral commission,” he said.

Observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African states lauded Saturday’s vote as fair and credible.

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Protesting with their vote: Nigerians @ the polls demanding change

KADUNA, Nigeria–The hundreds-strong crowd of young men–the same “ready army” often used by opportunistic Nigerian politicians to rig past elections–tensed, momentarily surged, then broke into rowdy cheers, satisfied with the result of a dispute during the ballot counting process. Scores of police–a few of them on horseback, all toting AK-47s and tear gas guns–had already proved utterly incapable of controlling the youth mob as they eagerly watched an equally young polling official separate and tally the votes in Saturday’s presidential vote. The young men, who are statistically most likely to be unemployed secondary school or even university graduates, fortunately opted to contain themselves and settled back down to continue observing the first genuinely legitimate elections Nigeria has held since it abandoned military dictatorship 12 years ago.

As the sun began to fall behind a crescent-topped minaret of a mosque in a posh, mainly Muslim neighborhood in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, this energetic crowd was joined by dozens of domestic elections observers and political party agents, a handful of Nigerian and international journalists, and some well-dressed and articulate Muslim women. Everyone wanted to watch with his or her own eyes as the ballots were counted at a polling station of great symbolic import for the presidential vote.

Earlier in the day, Nigerian vice president Namadi Sambo had cast his vote at this very station, several blocks from his family house. Sambo is the running mate of “accidental incumbent” president Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party. Sambo, a northern Muslim, is generally unpopular among his people in Kaduna, where he served as governor until assuming the vice presidency last year after the death of president Umaru Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim who passed away three years into his four-year term.

The local discontent with Sambo is directly linked to the growing resentment generally of the PDP among northern Nigerians. In the eyes of northerners, the latest offense happened when the party’s southern “Big Men”–think former president Olesugun Obasanjo–prevented a northerner from running as the PDP canddiate in the 2011 elections. This violated the party’s north-south “zoning” arrangement–a deal that has preserved a semblance of unity during the latest phase of Nigerian democracy. According to the “zoning” deal, the north was due to have eight years at the helm of the presidency after Obasanjo quit power in 2007. But after President Yar’Adua’s death last year, his vice president–Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the oil-rich Delta in the south–took over.

In the view of the masses gathering at Vice President Sambo’s polling station in Kaduna on Saturday, Jonathan and the PDP represent northern disenfranchisement under democratic rule since 1999. For this reason and others, Muhammadu Buhari, a one-time military ruler of Nigeria, took on a larger-than-life status during his campaign, becoming a lightening rod for the disenchanted northern population, the majority of whom are desperately poor despite the country’s enormous wealth.

“We want change!” the crowd chanted as the ballots were counted. Many voters turned citizen observers recorded the counting process on their cell phones, including one young man in a lime green caftan who perched in a tree to get a better vantage point for observing the tallying. “Sai Buhari!” (“Only Buhari!” in the Hausa language) they repeated again and again, as men and women, young and old, anxiously waited to see the PDP defeated at their local polling station, all the while railing insults against the ruling party.

“For the simple fact that the PDP enjoys incumbency, they have money at their disposal, they have control of the security [organs], so they can do anything,” one cross-legged man in a caftan remarked, while fellow Buhari supporters nearby passed around a cell phone with a text message detailing the various sums of money–allegedly adding up to 1.9 billion naira (about $120 million)–distributed by the PDP in Kaduna state in order to rig the election. A veiled woman said she supported Buhari because he’s the only politican she knows who “is not concerned about villas and money.” She said that “the masses want him” because he’s “never been tained by corruption.” In his tenure as a military ruler of the country from 1983 to 1985, Buhari sacked many corrupt politicians but was criticized at the time for his abusive means of doing so.

When Buhari was declared the winner at the polling station, cries of “Allahu Akbar!” rang out, people jumped up and down, and the youth mob celebrated in the streets, some of them popping wheelies on their motorbikes. Despite the extremely local nature of this victory, it felt for a moment as though the rallyers were celebrating the fact that change had come to their country through the ballot box.

The final, country-wide results of the vote have not yet been announced by the electoral commission. However, the intense north-south divide among the electorate in the presidential vote was confirmed today as results from around the country streamed in: President Jonathan is ahead in the mainly Christian south, while Buhari appears to have dominated the north.

It still seems unlikely that the vote wil produce a run-off between Jonathan and Buhari; furthermore, Nigerian analysts have expressed skepticism as to whether Buhari really would bring the much-referenced “change” Nigerian needs.

One thing is certain, though. Everyday citizens, like the 43-year old Mohammed Issa Jamal, a father of four whom I interviewed at a polling station on Saturday afternoon, deserve a better status quo from their leaders. Jamal, who holds a linguistics degree but is unemployed, expressed concern about the future of the country’s youth. Jamal said that while the Nigerian political elite send their children abroad for school, they use the impoverished young generation stuck at home to stoke local “religious and tribal divisions” to distract attention from theier own failings as leaders. Although Jamal said he was a Buhari supporter, he rejected the idea that northerners were voting for the popular opposition candidate because of his religion, ethnicity, or region of origin. He said he would vote for anyone, “whether he is a Christian or Jew,” as long as the candidate seemed capable of changing the status quo. “A country like Nigeria, we are rich,” Jamal reasoned. “Why is that people are suffering? In 12 years [since military rule ended], no infrastructure has come to this country,” proceeding to chart the injustices inherent in his country today. “We are protesting with our vote,” Jamal said.

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