Nigerians show up to vote despite violence, delays

Nigerians turned out to vote at the start of a crucial election period after a deadly bomb blast.

Updated: Apr 10, 2011, 00:24 AM IST

Lagos: Nigerians turned out to vote at the start of a crucial election period Saturday, shaking off fears of violence to cast their ballots after a deadly bomb blast and other attacks.

Parliamentary polls finally went ahead after two earlier postponements and despite violence that included a bomb attack on an electoral office Friday night which officials said killed 13 people and wounded dozens more.

Another explosion occurred at a polling place in the northeastern city of Maiduguri on Saturday, but authorities have not officially confirmed any deaths in connection with the incident.

The attacks and repeated postponements have marred efforts to organise a credible ballot in Nigeria, Africa`s most populous nation, after years of violent and deeply flawed polls.

However, many who showed up at polling stations Saturday said they were determined to see change. Polls opened at or near the scheduled start time in many areas, in stark contrast to the week before when organisational chaos led officials to pull the plug at around midday.

The legislative election was postponed in Suleija, the area near the capital Abuja hit by Friday`s bomb blast in an attack President Goodluck Jonathan called "heinous".

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred as electoral workers, including members of the national youth service corps, made final preparations.

Despite the bomb blast and other violence, there appeared to be a strong willingness across the country to cast ballots in the parliamentary poll, the first of three landmark elections this month.

From the economic capital Lagos, a city of some 15 million people in the southwest, to the country`s second-largest city of Kano in the north, voters said they turned out because they saw this year`s election as an opportunity to break with the past.

They stood in line at polling stations set up on the side of the street on plastic tables, waiting under a scorching sun.

"I have voted a few times, but I have never seen as much voter turnout as this time," said Usman Shehu, a 35-year-old banker among a huge crowd seeking to vote at a polling place in a densely populated area of Kano.

In Lagos, where voting passed relatively smoothly in many areas, Comfort Ejiogu, a 50-year-old businesswoman, said, "I believe my vote will count this time."

As counting began at a Lagos polling station, crowds gathered to watch, recording the process with mobile phones, singing and dancing when it appeared their candidate was doing well and shouting at results they did not like.

Jonathan`s voting station in his home state of Bayelsa in the oil-producing Niger Delta region was among those that did not function a week ago, but on Saturday it opened about 90 minutes after the scheduled start time.

Before voting there, Jonathan said that "there are some anti-social elements that want to derail the process of voting, but they will not succeed."

The effect that the postponements and blasts would have on final turnout was not yet clear. Electoral chief Attahiru Jega estimated turnout could be between 75 and 85 percent, though official figures were not yet available.

Security was tight, with traffic restricted, land borders shut and the military on patrol.

Army checkpoints were set up, with soldiers stopping cars without proper accreditation.

At least three violent incidents occurred in Nigeria`s northeast, including Saturday`s explosion.

An official from the ruling party in Borno state was also shot dead by unknown gunmen, police said, while four others were killed in an attack on a police station storing vote materials on Friday.

A number of incidents were also reported in the Niger Delta -- notorious for election fraud and violence in the past -- including the hijacking of vote materials and personnel in one troubled area of Bayelsa state, an electoral official said.

The presidential election is set for April 16, with Jonathan the favourite and his main challenger seen as ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. Governorship and state assembly ballots are set for April 26.

Bureau Report