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Second Day of Voting in Nigeria Ends With Sporadic Violence But No Major Incidents

Armed men opened fire on voters at one polling station and protesters clashed with police in the country’s south, but most areas were peaceful after technical difficulties Saturday forced a second day of voting.

by Katarina Hoije
Mar 29 2015, 10:40pm

Photo by Sunday Alamba/AP

Dressed in their Sunday best, voters in Lagos lined up to cast their vote in Nigeria's presidential election following technical difficulties Saturday that forced the polls to remain open for a second day in some areas.

At one polling station in Somolu, a crowded lower middle-class neighborhood squeezed between two highways, Rishikat Bashua, a 53-year-old trader, cast her vote only minutes before the polls closed.

"When I came to vote on Saturday morning I was told there were no ballot papers," Bashua told VICE News. "I came back twice before I gave up and went home to take my bath. When I heard the station was open today, I say let me go now and vote."

Voters at roughly 300 of the country's 120,000 polling stations had difficulties casting their ballots Saturday, according to a spokesman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Malfunctioning card readers made voter registration difficult. Some stations lacked ballot papers or registration lists. Others were hit by violence or never opened at all. 

INEC has said it will announce the election results Monday.

"In so many areas people were not able to vote," Bashua said. "If the authorities were serious about holding elections they wouldn't let this happen."

In Lagos, the country's largest city in the southwest, and in Kaduna and Kano in the north, polling stations closed without reports of any major incidents when voting ended Sunday. Abuja, the capital, was also peaceful.

"There were some reports of missing ballot papers, but overall voters cast their votes without issues," Mohammed Bello told VICE News as he manned a polling station in Kaduna.

In the south, in Rivers state, hundreds of supporters of Muhammadu Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) took to the streets in Port Harcourt, the state capital, marching on the local INEC office with members of other opposition parties. International observers expressed concerns over irregularities and violence in several areas in Port Harcourt. The protesters said voting never took place in several polling stations, that votes were cast without voters being registered, and that votes were collected outside polling stations. Police reportedly opened fire as the protest reached the INEC office.

"As far as I'm concerned, no election take place," Port Harcourt resident Ado Muhamed told VICE News.

Related: Threat of post-election violence looms in Nigeria — but not necessarily from Boko Haram 

In the northeast, an indefinite lockdown was ordered on three areas as armed men opened fire on voters at a polling station in Bauchi state. Two election workers were among the victims of the attacks. On Saturday, at least seven people were killed in suspected Boko Haram attacks in neighbouring Gombe state.

In Somolu, the last voters left the polling station just as the counting of the votes started. Unofficial reports from polling stations Sunday morning said President Goodluck Jonathan and his People's Democratic Party (PDP) won Ekiti state, a traditional PDP stronghold. Buhari and his APC reportedly won the vote in Lagos and Kano and Kaduna in the north.

The stakes are high in the presidential elections, the fifth since military rule in Nigeria ended 16 years ago. There are 14 candidates on the ballot, but the race comes down to a rematch between Jonathan, the incumbent, and Buhari, a former military ruler. The two faced off in the last election in 2011. In addition to the presidential elections, Nigerians are voting for governors in 36 states.

Nigeria has teamed up with Chad and Niger to fight a brutal Boko Haram insurgency that has displaced 1.5 million people in the country's northeast. By early March, the Nigerian army boasted that it had retaken 36 villages previously occupied by Boko Haram. There are doubts about the Nigerian army's involvement in the fight against the insurgents. In several villages, only regional troops are present while the Nigerian army is nowhere to be seen, according to witnesses. In March, the New York Times and other outlets reported that foreign mercenaries, mainly South Africans, were doing most of the fighting.

Boko Haram isn't Nigeria's only problem. Nigeria overtook South Africa as the continent's largest economy last year, but a slump in oil prices and a weakened currency has dealt a hard blow to the economy. Nigeria relies on oil for 70 percent of its income. The oil slump has taken world prices below $43 a barrel, their lowest level in six years. Corruption is also an issue, but Boko Haram's recent pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State has kept security at center stage during the election.

Related: Why electricity, or a lack of it, is an election concern for many Nigerians 

Last year, the militant group kidnapped more than 200 girls from the village of Chibok in Borno state. They have still not been found. On Friday, suspected Boko Haram gunmen killed 23 people in an attack in the northeast.

Buhari's military background could appeal to voters. Many Nigerians are fed up with Jonathan's government, saying he has not delivered the change he promised four years ago.

The danger of post-election violence also looms. The Human Rights Commission highlighted Rivers, Kaduna, and Kano, as well as the northeast, as possible hotspots. For the first time, an opposition candidate has a serious chance of unseating the incumbent.

On Sunday, Attahiru Jega, the chairman of Nigeria's national election commission, called for peace."We are working toward providing results providing results within 48 hours," Jega said.

To avoid a runoff and win in the first round of the election, a candidate needs a nationwide majority of votes, plus 25 percent of the votes in two-thirds of the country's 36 states.