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Nigeria in tense vote count

30 March 2015, 08:08

Abuja - Nigeria counted ballots in its closely fought general election on Sunday after failures in controversial new technology pushed voting into a second day, with officials calling for calm in the tense wait for a winner.

Despite violence linked to Boko Haram militants and sporadic unrest elsewhere, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and others praised the conduct of the vote and urged vigilance to avoid a repeat of deadly rioting that followed 2011 elections.

In a sign of the continuing threat posed by the Islamists however, military fighter jets and ground troops pounded Boko Haram fighters in the northeastern state of Bauchi after a series of attacks on polling stations at the weekend.

The presidential election in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer is the closest in the country's history, with the first credible challenge from an opposition party.

Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been in power since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999 but is being pushed to the wire by former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

First results could be given from Monday, the head of the country's electoral commission, Attahiru Jega, said on Sunday night.

The prospect of a democratic transfer of power - plus economic woes caused by the slump in global oil prices, concerns about corruption and fears about insecurity - served to energise the vote.

One government spokesperson claimed there was a "record turnout" and voting was largely peaceful despite pockets of unrest mainly in southern states such as the key battleground of Rivers.

The technical difficulties of the voting process, however, set the tone for a potential dispute as the PDP has opposed the use of handheld electronic devices to authenticate voters, saying they were not sufficiently tested.

Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) supports the new system as a means of curbing the voter fraud that has marred previous elections.

'No shenanigans' 

Jega told a news conference on Sunday the electoral commission was confident its objective of holding a "free, fair, credible and peaceful" election was "on course".

"We appeal to all Nigerians to remain peaceful as they await the return of these results," he added, with fears of a repeat of 2011 post-poll violence that left about 1 000 people dead.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Nigerians for holding "largely peaceful and orderly" elections and urged calm throughout the rest of the process.

Wrangling over the results already began as the counting got under way, some of it by flashlight with Nigeria regularly plunged into darkness by daily power cuts.

In oil-rich Rivers state, thousands of opposition supporters demonstrated to call for the cancellation of the elections locally because of alleged irregularities.

The ruling PDP earlier described the failure of the technology to read biometric data such as fingerprints - including on the president's own voter identity card - as a "national embarrassment".

The technical glitches along with the late and even non-arrival of election officials and materials in some areas led Jega to concede there were "challenges".

But the electoral chief stressed that only a small percentage of the card readers experienced problems.

"We have deployed 150 000 card readers and 0.25% statistically is insignificant," he said.

The devices were used again on Sunday, but voters could also be processed manually if further glitches occurred.

Jega said that around 350 polling stations across the country were affected by glitches and delayed materials, including 90 in the financial hub of Lagos in the southwest and two in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.

An electoral officer in the Kosofe local government area in Lagos told AFP: "We had challenges yesterday (Saturday) with the card readers but it is working fine now."

Also read: Boko Haram kills 41, prevents hundreds voting

"I was disappointed when I could not vote yesterday. But I am happy that I have been accredited to vote today," she said in the Yoruba language widely spoken in the southwest.

All ballots were expected to be cast by Sunday night, with nearly 69 million people registered to vote.

To avoid a run-off, presidential candidates need to have won the most votes and at least 25 percent support in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.

Bauchi fighting 

Boko Haram has dominated the campaign, with military operations against the Islamists forcing a six-week delay to the scheduled 14 February election.

On Sunday, residents and a military source said soldiers supported by two fighter jets intercepted the militants at Dungulbe village, 7km from Bauchi city in the northeast.

A spokesperson for the Bauchi state governor said an indefinite, round-the-clock curfew had been imposed on three areas because of the fighting.

The militants were believed to have come through the town of Alkaleri, 60 kilometres away, where there was a dawn raid on Saturday.

Bauchi police spokesperson Haruna Mohammed confirmed that polling stations in nearby Kirfi were attacked on Sunday and election materials were destroyed.

A series of suspected attacks on polling stations in neighbouring Gombe state on Saturday killed at least seven.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had vowed to disrupt the election, calling it "un-Islamic".



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