On Saturday, Nigerians were set to vote for their next president in hopes of a new leader who could steer the country, Africa’s most populous and biggest economy, on a new course after years of increasing violence and hardship.
The start of voting was delayed in some areas due to election officials not showing up in time, but polling stations were scheduled to open at 8.30am. The main candidates in this election are two political veterans from the two main parties and a candidate from a minor party who has a chance thanks to support from young voters.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army general, is stepping down after serving the maximum eight years allowed by the constitution, having failed to bring back order and security across Nigeria, Africa’s top oil-producing nation.
Over 93 million people are registered to vote for the next president and members of the National Assembly, with 176,600 polling stations scheduled to be open from 8.30am to 2.30pm. Vote-counting will begin once polls close and results will be posted outside polling stations, with the final tally from the 36 states and federal capital Abuja expected within five days of voting.
However, the run-up to the vote has been marked by violence, with a senatorial candidate killed in the volatile south-east region on Wednesday, the latest in a series of serious incidents. Nigerians are also struggling with a shortage of cash caused by a botched plan to swap old bank notes for new ones, leading to violence at banks and cash machines.
The new president will have to deal with problems such as high inflation, deep poverty, energy shortages, an Islamist insurgency in the north-east, industrial-scale oil theft in the south, and rampant crime everywhere.
The main contenders in the race are former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, and former Anambra State governor Peter Obi of the smaller Labour Party.
The Independent National Electoral Commission says it has introduced new technology and procedures to ensure this election is free and fair, such as a Bimodal Voter Accreditation System that will identify voters using biometric data. Despite such precautions, analysts have warned of risks from the dearth of cash, which could make citizens vulnerable to vote-buying by candidates, and a shortage of fuel that could make it hard for the electoral commission to send staff and equipment to all areas.