Nigeria election: Country goes to the polls amid technical glitches - and Boko Haram attacks that leave 41 dead

Islamists fire at people at polling stations in the north, warning them not to vote and claiming the electoral process was corrupt

Millions of Nigerians lined up yesterday to help decide what is seen as the West African nation’s closest election for a generation, although hundreds fled in fear as Boko Haram extremists tried to disrupt the presidential vote with gun attacks that left 41 people dead.

The group, which wants to establish a caliphate and has allied with the Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, fired at people at polling stations in the north of the country, warning them not to vote and claiming the electoral process was corrupt. In some villages, homes were said to have been torched.

There are 14 candidates, but the contest boils down to two: incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – and former military dictator, retired general Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Security was the main issue in the lead-up to the poll, thanks to the insurgency by Boko Haram.

Voting was extended into Sunday in some areas after polling centres were blighted by technical issues.

 

In Lagos, before sunrise, voters began their journey to polling stations in Africa’s biggest city. With the military imposing a ban on non-official vehicles after 8am, millions walked. In one district, anyone breaking the ban was forced out of their vehicles by gun-wielding soldiers, and strip-searched on the streets. The security forces were on heightened alert following the threats by Boko Haram to disrupt the election.

With the nation largely divided along ethnic and religious lines, a repeat of the violence which followed the 2011 results, which left 800 dead, had been feared. Thousands have fled the northern city of Kano in recent days to avoid the potential for similar disturbances. Expectant voters were left frustrated at many polling centres. Electronic biometric card readers – used for the first time in Nigeria – failed. President Jonathan’s registration was delayed after some failed attempts before being registered manually. Network glitches caused delays in matching voters’ fingerprints to a national database. “Only in Nigeria!” said Anne, from Lagos. “We have daily network problems yet we trust it’ll be all right on the biggest day. We’re a hopeful people.”

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The 2007 elections in Nigeria were marred by accusations of rigging (AFP)

As they queued in the sun, voters hoped the government would honour its pledge to provide credible elections. “We must all rise together,” one said. “If not, calamity may greet us. There can’t be any rigging today.” The 2007 elections were marred by accusations of rigging, while yesterday a group calling itself the Nigerian Cyber Army hacked into and shut down the electoral commission’s website for a time, warning officials not to rig the poll.

Although mostly good-natured; voters were in no doubt that their own man should win. “We’re done with ex-military influence ... I’m voting Jonathan,” said Femi, 28, a PDP activist. Many APC supporters have had enough of what they see as a government serving its own interests. “This government is not for favouring the poor,” said Adekola. “There’s no jobs, no security, no electricity. If we change the government, things may improve.”

The technical delays mean that any result will not start to become clear until this evening.

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