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Nigeria counts votes to elect a new president in a tight race

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Nigerian election officials have begun counting votes as polling stations across the country closed on Saturday.

Nigerians filed to cast ballots early Saturday morning to choose a new president, the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate.

Voting was scheduled to start by 8:30 a.m. and accreditation to end by 2:30 p.m., according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The head of the Independent Electoral Commission, Mahmud Yakubu, said voting in parts of southern Edo state had been suspended due to some irregularities.

“There have been some issues related to violence in the state of Espe. We have decided to suspend the district’s House of Representatives elections. The elections will now be held there in conjunction with the governor’s elections on March 11,” Yakubu declared at a press conference in the country. The capital, Abuja.

Electoral official Suleiman Abdeslam said voting is going into the evening because many voters are still queuing.

“We have instructions to certify the voters who are on the waiting list between 8:30 am and 2:30 pm and allow them to vote,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Three competitors

The success of the vote in Nigeria will be watched closely in West Africa, where coups in Mali and Burkina Faso and rising militancy have taken democracy in the region a step backwards.

Whoever wins Nigeria’s presidency must run Africa’s largest economy beset by a host of complex problems, from a grinding war of terrorism, bandit militias and separatists to high inflation and widening poverty.

But Saturday’s polling went mostly peacefully.

Several polling stations have been looted in Lagos, according to the Independent Electoral Commission, and voting will take place in 141 polling units in the southern state of Bayelsa on Sunday after polling was disrupted.

Voters will also cast their votes in both houses of Parliament in Nigeria, the National Assembly and the Senate.

Buhari, a former army chief, is stepping down after two terms in office, as critics say he has failed on promises to make Nigeria safer.

“It’s my turn” for the presidency, said APC candidate Tinubu, 70, a longtime political kingmaker. He can rely on the structure of the APC and its political network.

He’s up against a familiar challenger — DPP candidate Abubakar, 76, who’s on his sixth bid for the top job, touting his business expertise.

But both are old guard men who have fended off previous corruption charges.

The surprise appearance of a third candidate who has drawn in young voters, Labor’s Obi, 61, opened the race by campaigning as a candidate for change.

Lack of liquidity

Shortages of fuel and cash caused by the exchange of banknotes in the run-up to the election has also left many Nigerians suffering more than usual in a country already suffering from over 20% inflation.

To win the presidency, a candidate must receive the most votes, but also win 25 percent in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states.

If no candidate wins, a runoff will take place in 21 days between the two front-runners – an unprecedented outcome that some analysts say is likely this time around.

The rules reflect a country roughly evenly divided between the Muslim-majority north and the Christian-majority south, and three major ethnic groups across the regions: Yoruba in the southwest, Hausa/Fulani in the north and Igbo in the southeast.

Voting often falls along ethnic and religious lines: Tinubu is a southern Yoruba Muslim, Abubakar is an ethnic Fulani Muslim from the northeast and Obi is a Christian Igbo from the southeast.

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