Boko Haram extremists killed 41 people, including a legislator, and scared hundreds of people from polling stations in the northeast, but millions voted across Nigeria in the most closely contested presidential race in the nation’s history.
In electoral violence elsewhere, three people including a soldier were shot and killed in political thuggery in southern Rivers state, and two car bombs exploded at polling stations in the southeast but no one was injured, according to police.
All the Boko Haram attacks took place in northeastern Nigeria, where the military Friday announced it had cleared the Islamic extremists from all major centers, including the headquarters of their so-called Islamic caliphate.
Nearly 60 million people have cards to vote, and for the first time there is a possibility that a challenger can defeat a sitting president in the high-stakes contest to govern Africa’s richest and most populous nation.
The front-runners among 14 candidates are President Goodluck Jonathan, a 57-year-old Christian from the south, and former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, 72, from the predominantly Muslim north.
Voters also are electing 360 legislators to the House of Assembly, where the opposition currently has a slight edge over Jonathan’s party. Voting for 13 constituencies was postponed until April because of shortages of ballot papers, electoral officials said.
Nigeria’s political landscape was transformed two years ago when the main opposition parties formed a coalition and for the first time united behind one candidate, Buhari. Dozens of legislators defected from Jonathan’s party.
Polling will continue today in some areas where new machines largely failed to read voters’ biometric cards, said Kayode Idowu, spokesman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. That includes some areas of Lagos, a megacity of 20 million and Nigeria’s commercial capital on the Atlantic coast.
Even the president was affected. Three newly imported card readers failed to recognize the fingerprints of Jonathan and his wife. Biometric cards and readers are being used for the first time to discourage the kind of fraud that has marred previous votes.