Anyone who has received a Nigerian scam e-mail—offering to share vast wealth in exchange for just a teensy bit of advance capital—will instantly grasp how rife corruption is in Africa’s most populous and entrepreneurial country. This is true of politics as well as commerce. Cheating has become so brazen that few Nigerians expect fair elections. Politicians have for years larded voter lists with the names of foreign musicians, including deceased ones like Marvin Gaye, and have stuffed ballot boxes with abandon.
At parliamentary elections on April 9th, allegations of rigging were once again in the air. Violence also flared up. And the late delivery of ballot papers, which were securely printed abroad, delayed the voting by a week. Nonetheless, the poll marked the first credible election in Nigeria since the end of military rule 12 years ago.
What made it different is that officials fought back hard for the first time. They introduced a new voting system that severely limits fraud, using a clever mix of high-tech and low-tech. All 73.5m voters were fingerprinted and screened to stop duplication. Most polling booths opened for only an hour to prevent multiple voting. Electoral officials tallied the results in front of the voters. Independent monitors collected the numbers instantaneously using mobile phones in an exercise called “crowd tabulation”.
The process has been expensive: the government has set a record for public spending on elections of $580m. Western donors argued at first that the system was too complex for a developing country to handle. They were wrong.