By Tunde Niyi-Akinmade
Nigerians are voting today in the much-expected 2019 elections. Voting in the presidential and National Assembly elections officially began throughout the nation at 8am today.
The elections initially scheduled for 16 February, was delayed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by one week, over logistics challenges.
President Muhammadu Buhari was one of the first in the queue when the nearly 120,000 polling stations began opening. He voted in his hometown of Daura, alongside his wife, Aisha in the Presidential and National Assembly Elections.
Aisha, voted before the president at 8.06 a.m., while the president voted at 8.10 a.m. at the Kofar Baru, Sarkin Yara “A” ward in Daura.
After voting, the president expressed satisfaction with the state of affairs and said he was optimistic of winning and congratulated himself. Clad in a light blue `Babbar Riga’, the president was accompanied by some security details.
“So far, so good. Nigerians understand and are behaving themselves,’’ Buhari said when asked to give his assessment of the exercise, so far.
When asked if he would congratulate the winner if he lost the election he said, “I will congratulate myself; I am going to be the winner.”
Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, on Friday, said the commission is ‘more than ready’ to conduct the election, seen largely as a two-horse race between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
However, analysts are predicting that for the first time in the current dispensation, a third force might pull a surprise showing.
In the presidential polls, President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC faces the challenge of re-election from Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the PDP and a score of other challengers.
As part of the enlightenment of what to expect at polling booths, INEC said three ballot boxes will be available at polling centres, a red one for the Presidential election, a black one for the Senate election and the green ballot box for the House of Representatives election. Out of 84 million registered voters, 72.775 million Nigerians, who collected the permanent voters card, before the deadline, will be able to cast their ballots.
Yakubu, beaming with confidence on Friday, gave the assurance of the commission’s readiness.
He said said that the commission has concluded the deployment of sensitive and non sensitive materials to the 774 local government areas across the country.
“We engaged 825,543 ad hoc staff ranging from presiding officers to collation and returning officers. We have mobilised 80,000 commercial vehicles and about 996 boats for the deployment of personnel and materials.
“The materials include 707,892 ballot boxes and voting cubicles, and we are mobilising these to various locations by land and sea.
“We have accredited 120 domestic and 36 international observer groups, deploying accumulative number of 73,000 observers.
“We have concluded the movement of personnel, materials to the 774 local and 8809 RACs nationwide.
“All arrangements are now in place to facilitate opening of polls at 8 a.m. on Saturday,” he said.
Yakubu assured that measures were also in place to combat vote buying and other electoral malpractices. He said that the national situation room would open at 6 p.m. on Friday, while the national collation centre would also be opened at 6 p.m. on Sunday, both situated at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja.
The chairman advised eligible voters to visit gotomypu.ng to obtain location to their polling units, saying in the last 10 days about 190,000 persons had utilised the commission’s various social media platforms to geolocate their Polling Units. He said that the election would be by simultaneous accreditation and voting system, and that only registered voters with Permanent Voter Cards would be allowed to vote.
“As we go to poll tomorrow, I appeal to voters to be peaceful and orderly before, during and after the elections.
”The police working with other security agencies have assured us of adequate security for voters, electoral officers, observers and the media.
“May I also appeal to all to ensure compliance with the usual restriction of movement for those who are not observers or on essential duty,” the chairman said.
Yakubu also urged members of the public to desist from issuing any results of the elections, saying only INEC was empowered by law to declare results.
”The commission will work assiduously to ensure that collation and declaration of results are done at the various levels expeditiously,” he said.
On his part, the acting Inspector General of Police (I-G), Mohammed Adamu, reiterated that maximum security would be provided before, during and after the election.