Nigeria Now: A Country Votes

04/11/2011 04:55 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2011
  • Margee Ensign President, the American University of Nigeria (AUN)

The women were screaming at the officials. People pushed and shoved their way to the stairs. Pre-election violence? People trying to leave the capital out of fear of the elections? No, instead the scene was at the Abuja airport and passengers were pushing to get a seat on the last plane to Yola, Nigeria, so they could vote in Nigeria's nationwide elections.

Most of the international media has portrayed the current elections as chaotic, disorderly, and violence-prone. Listening to the BBC and CNN you would think Nigeria is on the brink of anarchy and widespread violence.

Nigeria's 50-year history since independence has certainly been one characterized by violence, corruption and injustice. But how much do these same adjectives apply today?

"Nigeria's election delayed twice due to ongoing violence," screamed the CNN headline this morning, when in fact, the delay was due to an insufficient number of ballots for the election. Planes that were to deliver the ballots had been diverted to Japan with relief supplies, according the head of INEC, Nigeria's electoral commission. Few international media explained the reason for the delayed ballots. Instead, the reporting focused on the disorganization and potential manipulation of the elections. Of course the ballots should have been ready. Of course INEC should have been better organized.

But let's look at the progress Nigeria's election officials have made in the past month and how the electorate is responding. Nigeria has registered over 70 million people in the last few months in preparation for the elections that began this morning.

Last Saturday, when the elections were delayed people stood patiently and calmly in line to vote. When the elections were delayed, on the whole, the country was calm and quiet. Not a story worth reporting, apparently.

Ambassador David Macrae, the European Union Ambassador to Nigeria was on campus with us at the American University of Nigeria in Yola, Northern Nigeria, last week.

"At this special moment in time Nigeria is facing the real possibility of deepening its democracy. People want more transparency and accountability... The world is looking for the next set of BRIC countries. [BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, China and India-some of the fastest growing developing countries]. If the elections go well, Nigeria could find itself as one of the countries attracting large scale international investment."

The Ambassador visited two classes during his visit. In a senior class on nationalism race and ethnicity our seniors hotly debated the future of the ruling party the PDP, and the future direction of their country. One student saw the change as too difficult, that an entrenched elite will not easily make the needed changes to build a society focused on building human capital and sustainable development. The vast majority disagreed. They know and spoke with great passion about the challenges they face: that like young people in Egypt and Tunisia -- they will need to lead most of the change in this country, the largest on the continent.

One of our most accomplished seniors, Peace Ugochukwu sums it up eloquently: "Personally, the 2011 election affirms the future of Nigeria; it is everything that Nigeria can be but has not yet become, everything Nigerians can do but have not yet done, but most importantly it represents the yearning for a new Nigeria."

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