September 28, 2010 / 6:35 AM / 9 years ago

"Ghost" polling booths haunt Nigeria elections

LAGOS (Reuters) - The list of voting stations for next year’s elections in Nigeria is littered with duplications and flaws that suggest almost a quarter of the 120,000 polling centres might not exist, an election watchdog said on Tuesday.

A poster of Nigeria's Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is pasted on a wall in the capital of Abuja April 25, 2010. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The West African Non-Government Organisation Network (Wangonet) said it had come upon the inaccuracies, which raise questions about election organisation in Africa’s most populous nation, while trying to plot polling stations on a digital map.

“In our estimation, approximately 28,000 booths out of the purported 120,000 are ghost,” Wangonet founder Tunji Lardner, a former Nigerian journalist, told Reuters.

For example, a tally of all the polling stations listed on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) database came to 111,078, compared to the 120,000 regularly cited by INEC, Lardner said.

Furthermore, 7,992 of the officially listed booths from the 2007 election, which is being used as the basis for the 2011 vote, were duplicated at least once — and in one instance appeared on the list 40 times, he added.

Other polling stations were listed as next-door to one another in the same street in the same village, and others appeared twice in the database but with names slightly altered, Lardner said.

Unless rectified, the discrepancies suggest Nigeria’s fourth election since the end of military rule could be as messy as its predecessors. Nigerian media have already described next year’s poll as one of the most expensive ever staged.

“You can’t manage what you can’t compute,” Lardner said. “A lot of things are predicated on that data — electoral computers, the logistics around that, the financial planning around that, the number of INEC officials.”

INEC spokesman Kayode Idowu said election organisers were aware of possible inaccuracies and that the 120,000 total “may not be the gospel truth” but said there had not been enough time to audit the list before ordering polling equipment.

“When you do a budget, you don’t look at the baseline. Savings will be made and returned to the government,” he said.

The elections were due in January, but INEC has asked for a three-month delay to iron out problems with voter registration lists that it said threatened the credibility of the polls.

Nigerian elections have tended to be marred by massive irregularities and legal wrangling, although since 1999 the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) has always emerged victorious.

Next year’s polls are likely to be highly contentious due to the absence of PDP consensus about its candidate for president following the death earlier this year of Umaru Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim, in his first term.

President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian who succeeded Yar’Adua, has registered as a candidate but some PDP officials feel he should not run because of an unwritten PDP rule that power rotates between north and south every two terms.

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