NigeriaDecides2023: Nigerians go to the polls in tense presidential election


Abuja, Nigeria

Widespread delays overshadowed a crucial presidential election in Nigeria on Saturday, as millions voted to elect their new leader. The hotly contested poll is being held simultaneously with elections for representatives of the country’s parliament.

CNN confirmed eyewitness reports of isolated violence at two polling stations in Lagos, with the military forced to intervene. CNN has contacted INEC for comment.

In chaotic scenes at a polling station in Maraba, a suburb of Abuja, a large crowd of voters struggled to cast their ballots, a CNN team witnessed. Those who managed to cast a vote did so in full view of those standing next to them, in violation of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) guidelines that stipulate privacy for voters.

“People vote in open spaces and everyone can see who they are voting for. There is no privacy. I won’t be surprised if this polling station gets shut down,” said Elias Ajunwa, a registered voter.

Ajunwa expressed his displeasure with the situation. “It is possible for any hooligan to carry off INEC materials due to the vulnerability of the INEC officials and their materials,” he added.

About 93 million Nigerians in a country with 200 million people registered to vote, according to election body INEC, but only 87 million are holders of a permanent voter card (PVC), an important requirement to vote. The elections will be Africa’s largest democratic exercise.

Nigerian Labor candidate Peter Obi casts his vote in the presidential election in Agulu, Nigeria.

The chief observer of the European Union’s monitoring mission in Nigeria, Barry Andrews, told CNN it was premature to draw conclusions about widespread delays.

“We have taken note of those reports and we will look across the country to see if this is a pattern or if it has in any way hindered people’s exercise of political voting rights or caused frustration or caused people to turn away. It is premature to draw any conclusions at this point.”

People were still waiting to cast their votes, despite polls expected to close at 2:30 p.m. local time (8:30 a.m. ET). In some polling places, voting did not start until after the scheduled opening time.

A polling station in Lagos delayed opening because officials were still setting up after the polls were due to open, a CNN team witnessed. An official urged eager voters to be calm and “treat each other with love” as they continued to wait.

The same problem was plaguing several other voting locations, including northern Kano state and southern Bayelsa state, with no election officials in sight at 8:30 a.m. local time, according to Reuters. In previous elections, voters in some areas have complained that polling stations opened hours late or did not open at all.

Independent officials of the National Electoral Commission (INEC) prepared voting materials at a polling station in Ojuelegba, Lagos on February 25, 2023, before polls opened.

Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the Progressives Congress (APC), and his wife Oluremi Tinubu arrive on Saturday to vote at a polling station in Lagos during Nigeria's presidential and general elections.

Ballots are counted at polling stations at the end of voting and sent electronically in real time to INECs Result Viewing Portal (IReV)a first of its kind in Nigeria, the commission told CNN.

“With the electronic transmission system (IREV), people know the winners even before the official announcement is made,” adds Rotimi Oyekanmi, a spokesman for INEC’s chairman.

To win, a candidate must collect enough votes to meet the 25% vote spread in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states. Failing this, a second round between the top two candidates will be held within 21 days.

Eighteen candidates are on the ballot for Nigeria’s summit, but three lead the race for the popular vote, according to pre-election polls.

One of the leading contenders is Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the candidate of President Muhammadu Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Another is the main opposition leader and former People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Vice President Atiku Abubakar. And the third strong contender, Peter Obi, runs under the lesser-known Labor Party and changed early predictions of the presidential vote, which were typically two horse races between the ruling and opposition parties.

Tinubu, 70, is a former governor of Nigeria’s wealthy Lagos state, who wields considerable influence in the southwestern region where he is hailed as a political godfather and kingmaker.

He brags help in the elections from Buhari to president and declares that it is now his turn to lead the country.

Opposition party candidate PDP Abubakar, 76, is a former Nigerian vice president and an avid capitalist who made his fortune investing in various sectors in the country.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar

Here’s what you need to know about Nigeria’s presidential election

Abubakar’s presidential bid (his sixth attempt) had fueled fears that this would happen make an unofficial arrangement their own to rotate the presidency between the northern and southern regions of Nigeria as he hails from the same northern region as the outgoing leader, Buhari.

A two-time former governor of the southeastern state of Anambra, Obi of the Labor Party has been touted by his hordes of supporters, mostly young Nigerians who call themselves ‘Obidients’, as a credible alternative to the two leading candidates.

Obi is also the only Christian among the leading candidates. Its southeastern region has not produced a president or vice president since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Labor Party presidential candidate Peter Obi (C) talks to the media outside a polling station in Amatutu in the western state of Anambra on Saturday.

The ruling party’s Tinubu, who hails from the religiously mixed southwestern part of the country, is Muslim and also chose a Muslim running mate, despite the country’s unofficial tradition of acquiring mixed-belief presidential tickets.

All the top three candidates are confident they can change Nigeria’s fortunes if they come to power as the country faces myriad economic and security challenges ranging from fuel and cash shortages to rising terror attacks, high inflation and a plummeting local population. currencies.

One voter, Wandu, told CNN’s Larry Madowo in Lagos on Saturday that the most important issue is security: “We need someone who has a grip and an understanding of the security challenges we have. The economy is in free fall. We need someone who understands what we need to get better.”

A voter casts her ballot at a polling station in Amatutu in the western state of Anambra on Saturday.

Nigeria’s security forces have mobilized personnel to ensure that elections run smoothly across the country.

The run-up to the elections was fraught with violence stemming from protests against unpopular government policies and deadly attacks by armed criminal gangs.

Wednesday was a Senate candidate for the Labor Party shot and burned in his campaign vehicle in the country’s southeastern Enugu state, police said.

Election body INEC suspended elections in Enugu East senatorial district after candidate’s death tweeted on Saturday, adding that the election will now be held on March 11.

Before the assassination, violent protests had erupted in Nigerian states as citizens raged against the scarcity of petrol in gas stations and a shortage of cash that followed a controversial currency redesign.

INEC has not been spared from the chaos; its facilities have been set on fire in parts of the country.

Voting has been canceled at more than 200 scheduled polling stations across Nigeria and voters were diverted to other voting locations, INEC said due to security concerns.

In the run-up to the elections, national police ordered a restriction of non-essential vehicle and waterway movements from midnight on Election Day to 6 p.m., while the country’s immigration service closure of Nigeria’s land borders from Saturday midnight to Sunday midnight.

Weeks before Election Day had the service confiscated more than 6,000 voter cards of illegal migrants, who it said had other national documents in their possession.

A Department of State Services (DSS) official stands guard outside a polling station in Amatutu in western Anambra state on Saturday.

INEC spokesperson Oyekanmi nevertheless insists that the results of the poll will be free and fair.

“The experience Nigerians will have for the 2023 election will be much better than in previous elections and the integrity (of the polls) will be clear to everyone,” Oyekanmi told CNN days before the election.

The final results are expected to be announced a few days after the poll.

Current President Buhari tweeted on Thursday: “No riots or acts of violence should take place after the announcement of the election results. All complaints, whether personal or institutional, should be channeled to the relevant courts.”

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