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Nigerians go to the polls to elect a new president in a tight race

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Nigerians began voting on Saturday for a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari in a hotly contested race with three front-runners running for the first time in the country’s modern history, and many hope the next leader will steer Africa’s most populous country and largest economy down a new course. After years of mounting violence and hardship.

Polling stations were scheduled to open at 8:30 a.m. (0730 GMT), although Reuters reporters at several locations across the country saw that some were not ready. In northern Kano state, southern Bayelsa state and the federal capital, Abuja, journalists saw queues of voters with no election officials in sight.

Reporters at one location in central Lagos, another in the city of Oka, in southeastern Anambra state, and one in the northeastern city of Maiduguri saw voting begin, though delays occurred at other locations in Lagos.

Buhari, a retired army general, resigned after serving the maximum eight years permitted by the constitution but failing to deliver on his pledge to restore order and security across Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer.

The main candidates in the most open contest since the end of military rule in 1999 are two political veterans from both major parties and a candidate from a minor party that polls suggest has a chance thanks to the support of young voters.

More than 93 million people are registered to vote for the next president and members of the National Assembly. About 176,600 polling stations were scheduled to open between 8:30 am and 2:30 pm (0730 GMT to 1330 GMT).

The counting of votes will begin as soon as polling closes and the results will be posted outside the polling stations. The final result from 36 states and the federal capital, Abuja, is expected within five days of voting.

“I hope whoever becomes president will ease the suffering of the masses. We are going through a difficult time and transportation costs and food prices have tripled,” said Omar Abdullah, a tea seller waiting to vote in Kano.

Pre-election violence, a pattern seen in previous Nigerian elections, has been marred with the death of a senatorial candidate in the country’s volatile southeast region on Wednesday in the latest in a series of serious incidents.

The election comes as Nigerians struggle to deal with a cash shortage caused by a failed scheme to swap old banknotes for new ones that has wreaked havoc on people’s daily lives and led to scenes of violence in banks and ATMs.

The new president will also have to grapple with problems ranging from soaring inflation, grinding poverty and energy shortages, to an Islamist insurgency in the northeast, industrial-scale oil theft in the south, and rampant crime everywhere.

For the elections, land borders were closed, soldiers patrolled the streets in several states and movements were restricted in an attempt by authorities to beef up security.

The main contenders in the race to succeed Buhari are former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu, 70, of the ruling Congress Progressive Party, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 76, of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, and former Anambra state governor Peter Obi, 61. from the smaller Labor party.

Tinubu and Atiku, as they are known in Nigeria, are political heavyweights with decades of networking behind them and bulging campaign coffers. Both are Muslims, Tinubu of Yoruba ethnicity from the southwest and Atiku of Fulani from the northeast.

Obi, a Christian of the Igbo ethnic group, has less of a political machinery behind him, but has used a mass media campaign to generate such enthusiasm among young voters, some even calling themselves “worshippers”.

Nigeria has a long history of electoral fraud and violence, though its elections have gotten progressively cleaner in recent cycles.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it has introduced new technologies and procedures to ensure these elections are free and fair, such as a dual-mode voter accreditation system (BVAS) that will identify voters using biometric data.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says cell phones are not allowed in voting booths because people have used them in the past to take pictures of their ballots to show to candidates who have offered to pay for their votes.

said Muhammed Aisha, a grocery store owner who is waiting to vote. Lagos.

Despite these precautions, analysts warn there remain risks of a cash shortage, which could leave a hard-pressed citizenry vulnerable to vote-buying by candidates, and fuel shortages that could make it difficult for the Independent National Electoral Commission to deploy staff and equipment to All the places.

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