Nigeria tallies votes after tight presidential election hit by long delays

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Nigeria was counting ballots on Sunday, a day after a historically tight election among three frontrunners competing for the presidency of Africa’s most populous nation. 

Nearly 90 million voters were eligible for Saturday’s election, which went off mostly peacefully, although isolated violence, delays and technical hitches forced many to wait to nightfall to vote.

After two terms under President Muhammadu Buhari, many Nigerians hope a new leader can do a better job tackling the widespread insecurity, joblessness and growing poverty afflicting their nation.

Among the candidates in the race, three stand out: Bola Ahmed Tinubu, candidate of the ruling party (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition party (PDP), and Peter Obi, backed by the Labour Party.

Crowds waited outside polling stations in Lagos and other cities late on Saturday as electoral officials tallied first results by hand and read out the counts before transmitting them to a central database.

“We just finished counting, but we need to make sure they upload the results,” said Chizoba Onuoha, an IT manager, watching the count at her Lagos polling station.

Three-way race 

The competitive three-way race has some analysts forecasting an unprecedented, second-round runoff between the two frontrunners if no candidate meets election requirements.

But for some voters, nightfall meant more waiting, after late starts by election officials and technical difficulties with voter ID technology created huge delays in some polling centres in Lagos and other cities.

In northwest Kano city, in one electoral area voting materials arrived five hours after official opening time, according to an AFP correspondent.

“Voting is still in progress well beyond the approved hours,” said voter Kabiru Sani, 37. “We started late, and we will not allow ourselves to be disenfranchised.”

In a country where votes are often marred by attacks, violent clashes between rival supporters, and ethnic tensions, Saturday’s election was mostly peaceful.

Several Lagos polling booths were ransacked, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission or INEC, voter ID machines were stolen in other states and voting at 141 polling units in southern Bayelsa State would take place on Sunday after the ballot was disrupted.

Insecurity was a major election issue, with Nigeria still battling a 14-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast that has displaced two million people, bandit militias in the northwest and separatist gunmen in the southeast.

Complex problems 

The success of Nigeria’s vote will be closely watched in West Africa, where coups in Mali and Burkina Faso and growing Islamist militancy have taken the region’s democracy back a step.

Voters will also cast their ballot for Nigeria’s two houses of parliament, the National Assembly and Senate.

To win the presidency, a candidate must get the most votes, but also win 25 percent in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states. 

If no candidate wins, a runoff will take place within 21 days between two frontrunners.

The rules reflect a country almost equally split between the mostly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, and with three main ethnic groups across the regions: Yoruba in the southwest, Hausa/Fulani in the north and Igbo in the southeast.

Nigeria’s voting also often falls along ethnic and religious lines. 

Fuel and cash shortages caused by a bank note exchange in the run-up to the election also left many Nigerians struggling more than usual in a country already hit by more than 20-percent inflation.


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