Nigeria: Internally displaced persons may be unable to vote (Trust)

| January 26, 2015

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When Boko Haram first attacked Daniel Dunya’s village, dozens of heavily armed men stole all the village cattle and kidnapped several women. The second time, they burned down churches and many houses. When they returned a third time, abducting girls and killing men, Mr. Dunya was ready to leave.

Mr. Dunya’s home is near the town of Gwoza, in the mountains near the Cameroon border. Because the area is now controlled by Boko Haram, he made the difficult decision to leave.

He now lives at Makholi displaced persons camp in Adamawa State. He says, “[I lost] most of my documents, including my voter’s card, because I was running away.”

People fleeing the wave of violence have already lost loved ones, livelihoods and most of their possessions. Now they seem likely to lose their vote. Mr. Dunya says, “I’d vote for someone who will bring back peace.”

Nigeria will hold a presidential election in February. Nigerian law states that people must vote in their home constituency. But the idea of returning to their homes is too harrowing for many to contemplate.

Mr. Dunya explains, “They will kill me if I go back to my local government area. Boko Haram [is] still running around there.” But he remains optimistic that he will be able to vote, somehow.

The international NGO Oxfam estimates that one and a half million people have fled their homes as a consequence of Boko Haram’s actions. The country’s independent electoral commission, or INEC, says it is rushing to distribute voter identification cards to those displaced by violence.

Last year, the Nigerian parliament decided not to change the law requiring people to cast their ballots in their home areas. INEC is trying to find a way around the law, but nearly half of registered voters in Nigeria have yet to receive new voter identification cards.

INEC recently set up tents on a large sandy field inside the entrance to Modibbo Adama University of Technology in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State. They handed out voter cards to people from the Boko Haram-controlled area of Madagali. Each tent represented a different ward.

Volunteers sorted piles of voter cards at tables and read out names to those waiting. The problem is huge – five local authorities controlled by Boko Haram in Adamawa State alone account for over 350,000 voters.

INEC has another problem – what to do on polling day. An electoral commissioner says, “I don’t know how they will vote yet. We are waiting to hear.”

Hajaratu Tumba is a farmer from Adamawa State. She looks puzzled when asked about the coming election. She hasn’t given it much thought. Ms. Tumba says: “When they attacked my village, they killed the men and told the women they [were] going to convert us. I ran and ran and ran. I stayed in the bush for three days with no food or water.”

She adds, “I came here with nothing. Just myself.”

To read the article on which this story was based, Nigerians made homeless by Boko Haram seen losing vote too, go to: