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A Behind The Scenes Look At Covering The Nigerian Presidential Elections

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(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Voters in Nigeria elected a new president this week.  Muhammadu Buhari won a decisive victory against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, getting almost 55 percent of the vote to Jonathan's 45 percent.  Buhari's victory made history in Nigeria.  He became the first opposition party candidate to win an election.

WSHU's Capital Reporter Ebong Udoma has been in his native Nigeria for the past 6 weeks working on a media project Gotel Africa. It's a new radio network with local reporters covering news from inside the continent.  He joins us from the Gotel headquarters in Abjua, Nigeria's capitol. 

INTERVIEW EXCERPTS:

How did you and the reporters of Gotel Africa cover the elections?

The elections were initially postponed, and that's how come we were able to cover it at all. Because I came in after the postponement.  So we got a small group of reporters and producers and we tried to get a bigger picture for people outside the country to understand what was going on with the Nigerian elections.

The reports we've heard described a fairly smooth, peaceful election process.  Is this an accurate picture? 

Absolutely.  I'll tell you, there was a lot of trepidation here.  People were lining up in the grocery stores trying to grab  as much food and other provisions as possible because of the history of strife and unrest following the elections.   They were very pleasantly surprised by the way that things unfolded.  You know, Nigerian elections, most of the times, have ended up in court.  No one accepts defeat here.
And I think the crucial thing that happened here was that the president called his opponent and congratulated even before the official count had finished.  And that released a lot of the tension because it's very difficult for someone to say I'm fighting for someone who has already conceded. 

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Credit (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
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An elderly Nigerian woman validates her voting card using a fingerprint reader, prior to casting her vote in Daura, Nigeria Saturday, March 28, 2015.

Did the Gotel reporters have any trouble or obstacles from officials while covering the elections?

A lot of us are people who have worked in this environment before.  Sometimes you have to be pretty forceful to get your way.  For instance, getting into the national election headquarters, where the Independent National Election Commission was doing its tabulation was heavily restricted.  Sometimes the soldiers don't understand when you say you have accreditation and you have to be pretty forceful to get in.

What kind of approach Gotel will be using to track the transition of power?

We'll be paying a lot of attention to the business community in the country and the business outlook, because 75 percent of the  federal income is from the oil sector and, as everyone knows, the bottom has fallen out of the oil market, and pretty much the country is getting about half of the revenue it was realizing just a year ago from oil.  And that's going to be a big problem going forward, in any administration, in keeping its promises of increasing employment and building infrastructure and all the other things that need a lot of revenue to be able to accomplish. 

What was your personal impressions of the elections?

The thing that startled me and thrilled me the most was the dedication of the people who came out to vote.  We have a very convoluted voting system in this country.  You have to first get accredited in the morning and then you have to hang around til the afternoon before you actually cast your ballot, so it was an all day affair.  And another thing that also fascinated me was that the whole country was shut down.  There was no movement whatsoever;  there was no traffic on the roads.  People had to walk to their voting precincts and vote.  It was just amazing because in the United States voting is on a work day.  People got to vote before going to work or after work.  And here it was a public holiday.  Everything was shut down. I've never seen it before.  It was unbelievable.

Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.
As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Ann is an editor and senior content producer with WSHU, including founding producer of the midday talk show, The Full Story.