Calm Down…it was just warning shots…
I had been looking forward to February 14 since my arrival in Nigeria. On February 14, 2015, Nigerians were supposed to go to the polls to select a new president and members of the Senate and House of Representatives. When my organization told me they were sending me to Nigeria to manage programs leading up to the election, February 14 seemed so far away. However, this very important date is right around the corner.
Enter the Independent National Election Commission, or better known as INEC in Nigeria. On early Sunday morning, INEC announced that they were delaying the election for six weeks because security officials said that they would not be able to provide security for the election because of Boko Haram. It is true that Nigeria has a problem with Boko Haram but the insurgent terrorist group has been causing problems not only in the northeastern states of Nigeria but in Abuja and other large cities for years. It is nice to know that finally the government of Nigeria sees Boko Haram as a threat. Sadly, they are using the security situation as a political solution for delaying the elections.
Most people who follow Nigeria thought that a delay in the elections would lead to violence because for the first time since its return to democracy, Nigeria is facing a very competitive and contentious election. The presidential race is a dead heat between two candidates, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former head of state General Muhammadu Buhari as the flagbearer of the recently formed All Progressives Congress (APC). General Buhari is what we would call in the United States a perennial candidate. He has run for president in every election since 2003, each time receiving only 12 million votes (out of around 36 million votes casted). The exception was in 2007 when the major candidate was also a Muslim from the same state. But the situation is different in the upcoming 2015 election. The Jonathan Administration is unpopular because of corruption and the inability to deal with Boko Haram. General Buhari and the APC has tapped into the mood of the country to take advantage of the woes of the PDP. Many people on the ground believe that the delay was a political decision to allow the PDP to continue canvassing for votes.
The country has been relatively quiet and Sunday started like any other Sunday in Nigeria. However, early Sunday morning, after INEC made its announcement, I received a bit of a scare. As I was preparing to go to bed, I heard a loud pop outside my window. At first I didn’t think much about it but then I heard a series of gun shots. I would admit, I panic. The first thing that crossed my mind was the night the conflict started in South Sudan. So I jumped from my bed and ran around the room trying to decide what to do. I quickly dressed and then laid on the bed, remembering that bullets have no names. I was trying to think of the people I should call…my parents…my brother…and finally I decided to call my Nigerian colleague who told me to calm down and reminded me that I lived near a government officials that had police who patrolled the streets. He said that its possible that they were firing warning shots. After about 15 minutes, I calmed down but decided to sleep fully dressed in case I needed to run during the night.
My response was a complete overreaction but I realize maybe I have not completely put away those emotions from South Sudan. Or maybe I just don’t enjoy random gunshots…
All in all, the situation in Nigeria has been relatively calm and it looks as though people are waiting until the new election date to exercise their voting rights.