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Saturday 23 March 2019

Explosions and delays mark Nigeria’s presidential election

Voting turnout appeared to be light as authorities tried to calm panicked, sceptical residents.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (Ben Curtis/AP)
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (Ben Curtis/AP)

By Ben Curtis, Rodney Muhumuza and Hilary Uguru, Associated Press

Gunfire and explosions have opened Nigeria’s delayed election as President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a second term.

The vote, widely seen as too close to call, was also marred by hours-long delays at polling stations across the vast West African country.

Nigerian security authorities acknowledged an extremist attack in the northeast city of Maiduguri shortly before voting began on Saturday.

A statement by Borno state police said Boko Haram extremists “attempted to infiltrate” the state capital by launching artillery fire, likely to disrupt the elections.

The statement said “some missiles strayed into vulnerable locations” but there were no casualties and the extremists retreated.

Security sources, however, said one soldier was killed and four wounded.

Security forces earlier said the reported blasts had been their own in a show of force to deter extremists.

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Leading opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar thumbprints his ballot (Sunday Alamba/AP)

Voting turnout appeared to be light as authorities tried to calm panicked, sceptical residents.

Gunfire also was heard in Port Harcourt in Nigeria’s restive south, where the military presence was heavier than in past elections.

One convoy in Delta state contained more than 25 vehicles with battle-ready soldiers.

Later in the day, soldiers in Rivers state fired on suspected ballot snatchers, with four people arrested.

Mr Buhari brushed aside reporters’ questions about whether he would accept a loss to top challenger Atiku Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president.

The president, first in line to vote in his northern hometown of Daura, jokingly checked the name on his wife’s ballot.

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Women queue in the midday sun to cast their votes (Ben Curtis/AP)

Nigerians “are behaving themselves”, the president said.

A smiling Mr Abubakar, after voting in his hometown of Yola in the north east, told reporters that “I look forward to a successful transition”.

He previously pledged to accept the results, provided they are credible.

Mr Buhari called the voting process smooth, but a coalition of civic groups said multiple polling units had not opened more than four hours after the official start.

Delays were reported in Delta, Anambra and Akwa Ibom states as well as in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.

Press Association

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