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Voting continues in Nigeria, a day after polls due to close

Electoral officials check election documents, at the Local Independent National Electoral Commission office in Yola, Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023.

More people in Nigeria cast ballots Sunday morning even though voting in the presidential and parliamentary elections of Africa’s most populous nation was supposed to end Saturday.

Votes were cast in Benue, Adamawa and Bayelsa states even as the counting of ballots ballots was underway Sunday in places where polls had closed, election observers said. Preliminary results were expected as early as Sunday evening.

Logistical and security challenges caused widespread delays across the country Saturday, leading to frustration among voters, some of whom waited overnight and still hadn’t voted by the following morning.

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“No sacrifice is too great to elect a credible leader of your choice,” Glory Edewor, who stood in line all night to vote in Delta state, said.

Election officials blamed the delays on logistical issues, though other observers pointed to the upheaval created by a redesigned currency that has left many residents unable to obtain bank notes.

The cash shortage affected transportation not only for voters but also for election workers and police officers providing security. The challenges also likely resulted in low voter turnout, said Yiaga Africa, the country’s largest election monitoring body.

While Saturday’s election was largely peaceful, observers said there were at least 135 critical incidents, including eight reports of ballot-snatching, that undermined the legitimacy of the country’s democracy,

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“It is unacceptable that Nigerians who have the constitutional rights to participate in an election go out to cast their vote and you have thugs who make it difficult for them,” said Samson Itodo, the head of Yiaga Africa. “The nation needs to really rise and condemn these acts of voter suppression that we observed yesterday,” he said.

Associated Press journalists saw armed men pull up to a voting station in a minibus Saturday, fire shots in the air and grab the presidential ballot box. The shots sent voters screaming and scattering, and ballots strewn across the floor.

In the capital, Abuja, some voters said they were barred from voting at all.

“They employed various strategies to make sure that we do not continue to vote,” said Emmanuel Ogbu. The 45-year-old trader waited with more than 100 people to vote Sunday but was told by election officials they didn’t have enough supplies, such as ink, and needed to wait for the supervisor who had yet to arrive.

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The elections were being carefully watched as Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that Nigeria will tie with the United States as the third most populous nation in the world after India and China.

President Muhammadu Buhari is stepping down after two four-year terms. His tenure was marked by concerns about his ailing health and frequent trips abroad for medical treatment. Out of the field of 18 presidential candidates, three front-runners emerged in recent weeks: the candidate from Buhari’s ruling party, the main opposition party candidate and a third-party challenger who drew strong support from younger voters.

As voting continued, officials need to ensure there is adequate security at polling stations, monitor the process for vote-rigging and manipulation, and control misinformation, said Dr. Akinola Olojo, project manager for the Lake Chad Basin team at the Institute for Security Studies.

“(These) points of attention are critical for the successful conclusion of what can be regarded as the most tense election in Nigeria’s recent history., The last election cycle in 2019 witnessed slightly over 600 fatalities, and it is important that Nigeria avoids such a situation while ensuring that the voice of citizens through the current election is secured,” he said.

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