Blasts, gunfire strike Nigeria as voters head to polls

Abuja: A town in northeast Nigeria was on Saturday reportedly struck by blasts and gunfire as voters across the country headed to the polls for the general election following a last-minute postponement of the vote a week ago.

Despite the attacks by suspected Boko Haram militants, public security was not at risk, according to a police statement issued by Commissioner of the northeastern state of Borno, Damian Chukwu.

The attacks took place in the city of Maiduguri, two hours before polling stations opened, according to the Premium Times newspaper, which did not report any casualties.

In the rest of the African country, people headed to polling stations to cast their ballots to elect the nation’s President and National Assembly, with queues building up outside polling centres before they opened, Efe news reported.

Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking a second four-year term as candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, voted in his hometown of Daura in the northeast.

Buhari, alongside former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, candidate for the opposition People’s Democratic Party, are the leading contenders for the presidency.

Nearly 73 million people in Africa’s most populous country and the continent’s largest economy were called to cast their ballots to elect a President, 106 senators and 360 representatives.

The elections were initially scheduled for February 16, but just five hours before voting commenced, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced a one-week postponement due to logistical and operational reasons.

The poll body cited the difficulty of transporting election materials to the nearly 120,000 polling places across the vast West African nation.

This is the fifth quadrennial election in the oil-rich country since the return to civilian rule in 1999 following nearly three decades of military dictatorship.

Nigeria has a history of elections marred by irregularities ranging from rigging to outright vote-buying, a history that has created tension and uncertainty ahead of Saturday’s vote.

The government has sent additional troops to some regions to reinforce security in the lead-up to the vote, including the northwest, an area wracked by armed banditry, cattle-rustling and kidnapping.

Thousands of international election observers from the EU, the UN and the African Union were dispatched to polling places nationwide as part of efforts to ensure a credible vote.