Nigerians are going to the polls in the country’s democratic era with the closest election

Nigerians headed to the polls on Saturday to choose their next president, marking the end of an exhausting election campaign notable for the emergence of a credible alternative to the country’s two dominant political parties.

The lead candidates have spent five months traversing Africa’s largest democracy as voters prepare to choose a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, who is stepping down after eight years in power.

On Saturday, delays and violence marred the voting process in parts of the country.

Voting was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., but officials from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not arrive in many areas until hours later.

In parts of southeastern Imo state, polling officials had not arrived as of 3:30 p.m. — an hour after voting was scheduled to end.

At a polling station in the Surulere district of Lagos, people waiting to cast their ballots were ran away after gunmen fired multiple shots in the air. Many had waited hours for the vote.

In parts of Lekki District, youths wielding machetes disrupted the process.

Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, told a news conference in the capital Abuja that gunmen attacked polling stations in southern Delta state and took away at least two biometric voting machines.

Yakubu said violence has also been recorded in the northern states of Borno and Katsina. Yakubu apologized for the delays.

A total of 18 candidates are officially running, although only three have a realistic chance of winning what is expected to be the closest presidential election in Nigeria’s democratic era.

Bola Tinubu, governor of Lagos for eight years until 2007, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, and Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who is running for office for the sixth time, of the People’s Democratic Party, are hoping for victory.

So is Peter Obi, a businessman and former state governor whose underdog campaign in the burgeoning Labor Party has roused voters disillusioned with Nigeria’s two main parties.

Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, there has rarely been an incumbent or former military ruler in presidential elections, which analysts say presented an opportunity this time to choose a different type of leader. Buhari, who was temporarily the military head of state in the 1980s, has stood as a candidate in all but one of the six elections to date, casting a shadow over Nigerian democracy.

Voters will also choose 109 senators and 360 members for the lower house.

Presidential election in Nigeria

Woman in a colorful headscarf

Read our collection of important stories about Nigeria’s elections this Saturday

The botched introduction of redesigned bills and crippling fuel shortages have dominated the headlines in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Repeated questions about the ages of the party’s two main candidates – Tinubu is 70 and Abubakar 76 – were also aired on the campaign trail in a vast country where the median age is 18. Both men have been dogged by historic corruption allegations, which they deny.

Pre-election polls predicted a win for Obi in a high-turnout vote, but the large number of people who choose not to share their voting intentions with pollsters has shyed analysts from reading too much into polls.

Previous Nigerian elections have been plagued by low turnout; In 2019, just over a third of eligible voters cast their vote. This time, more than 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote.

A victory for Obi, 61, whose campaign focused on frugality and accountability has attracted a following among disaffected urban youth in the country’s south, would come as a major political shock in a country that has had presidents from only the two major parties since 1999 has chosen.

To win the presidency, a candidate must receive the most votes and exceed the constitutional threshold of at least 25 percent of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital, Abuja. If no candidate clears that bar, there would be a runoff for the first time in the country’s history.

The winner will be announced by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria’s electoral authority, at a ceremony in Abuja. Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, an analyst with the Center for Democracy and Development think tank, said the statement may not arrive until Wednesday, although the results will arrive on Sunday.

Widespread insecurity, corruption in the public sector and the ailing state of an economy crippled by rising prices and high unemployment are among voters’ top concerns. The proposed scrapping of gasoline subsidies, which cost the country more than $10 billion last year, is another major concern. Nigerians are going to the polls in the country’s democratic era with the closest election

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