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Polls Close in Nigeria Election After Technical Glitches Extend Voting

by Anne Look, Chris Stein March 29, 2015

Election workers across Nigeria labored Sunday to tally millions of votes from the country's closely watched national elections, after some polls that were kept open an extra day by technical problems finally closed.

The country's top election official, Attahiru Jega, indicated it would be Monday at the earliest before a clear result is known in the presidential balloting.

That race pits incumbent Goodluck Jonathan against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. Pre-election polling had showed neither man had a clear advantage.

Millions managed to vote without issue on Saturday, but technical glitches with a new computerized biometric voting system resulted in delays and long lines at some polling stations, and officials extended the vote into Sunday.

That decision, and scattered violence on Saturday by Boko Haram militants in the country's battered northeast, added a layer of uncertainty to the already tense election campaign.

Jonathan, 57, is a Christian from the Niger Delta oil region in the south, while Buhari, 72, is a Muslim from the north.

Allegations of vote rigging in the 2011 elections, which also featured the two men, led to violence and sectarian rioting that killed about 800 people.

Speaking Sunday evening at a nationally televised news conference, Jega, who heads the Independent National Electoral Commission, said only two states have finished collating results, though several others are close.

Observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States said Sunday that despite the delays, technical problems and isolated incidents of violence, the organization of the election was 'acceptable.'

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also congratulated Nigeria on the vote, saying he was impressed with Nigerians' 'determination and resilience' in casting ballots 'in the face of unjustifiable violence.'

Trouble in Rivers

Tensions in Port Harcourt, the capital of the southern state of Rivers, soared as hundreds of opposition supporters demonstrated outside the electoral commission offices.

Protesters said the state vote had been rigged and should be cancelled. Two opposition supporters and a soldier were reportedly killed by gunfire there Saturday. The governor, a prominent opposition politician, refused to vote.

"In all units, there was no release of original results sheets, and because of that no election took place, but we are seeing a situation where they are going to fabricate results and (the electoral commission) will announce it," one protester, Evang Doba Dang, told VOA.

Jega, in his news conference, said officials were monitoring the vote tally in Rivers.

'There are many alleged cases of malpractices and we certainly pay a lot of attention to investigating this and if our staff are involved in any way or manner, obviously we will apply the appropriate sanctions and take the appropriate decisions as provided for by the electoral legal framework,' he said.

In Kano, Nigeria's second largest city, ballot counting went well into the night Saturday, with workers coping with the country's notoriously inadequate electricity by using flashlights or noisy generators.

At the Sharda primary school in one residential neighborhood, the school grounds teemed with adults and children waiting for the results. Kano state was expected to heavily favor Buhari

In one classroom, Abbas Bashir Abbas, a poll monitor for the Jonathan's People's Democratic Party, watched the tallying process. He said he realized his party had long odds of winning Kano, but he hoped support from Jonathan's heartland in the south would boost his chances.

"Even if the (opposition) win the election, I am going to celebrate it with them because they are our friends, our neighbors,' Abbas said. 'It is just the party, political party that differentiate us. But there is not any conflict between us."

Other scattered problems were reported throughout the country. In the Somalu district of Lagos, ballot papers never arrived to one polling station and voters had to come back and vote Sunday, which upset some voters.

"I was very annoyed. Very very annoyed…They didn't supposed to give any excuses for the ballot papers,' said one voter, Rishikat Bashua. 'That yesterday we should have finished everything [and] everybody will go home. Not that they be giving excuses here and there. It's not only here in this ward."

This vote was the first time the country had used the new biometric system to help prevent the fraud concerns that plagued previous votes. The system features a 'Permanent Voter Card' and hand-held computers to check a voter's identity.

The problems resulted in about 350 polling units re-opening for balloting on Sunday, said Kayode Idowu, an electoral commission spokesman: less than 1 percent of the approximately 150,000 polling units nationwide.

Earlier in the week, both Jonathan and Buhari pledged to respect the outcome of the election as long as it was 'free, fair and credible.'

Boko Haram

About 60 million Nigerians were eligible to vote in the election, which was postponed from February due to security concerns from the Boko Haram insurgency in the country's northeast.

The government's inability to stop the Islamist extremist group was a major issue during the campaign.

Nigeria's military, along with joint efforts of neighboring countries' armed forces and foreign mercenaries, have notched a series of victories against the Islamist militants, but violence has continued.

On Saturday, witnesses told VOA that gunmen who were believed to be Boko Haram attacked three villages in the Gombe state, killing at least 24 people. Insurgents also killed 25 people in a Borno state village, in the northeast, on Friday, officials there said.

In neighboring Bauchi, the state government put the state capital and two other towns under a 24-hour curfew after the Nigerian armed forces repelled an advance by insurgents early Sunday.

Stein reported from Kano. Also contributing to this report were Peter Clottey in Abuja, Ibrahim Yakubu in Kaduna, Hilary Uguru in Port Harcourt, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Katarina Hoije in Lagos and Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi.

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