Voting in crucial Nigerian election starts late amid cash shortage

Polling stations have opened late in parts of Nigeria as Africa’s most populous country holds presidential and parliamentary elections, after nationwide ticket shortages left many without transportation to their polling stations.

The elections come amid fears of violence, from Islamic militants in the north to separatists in the south, although officials did not postpone voting as in the last two presidential elections.

In the northeastern state of Borno, police officers deployed to protect voting units were seen traveling long distances to reach their posts.

The delays have raised concerns about whether voters will be disenfranchised.

People arrive to cast their ballots during the presidential election in Yola, Nigeria
People arrive to cast their ballots during the presidential elections in Yola, Nigeria (Domingo Alamba/AP)

There were no polling officers in more than 70% of polling units an hour before voting was due to start, said Samson Itodo, head of YIAGA Africa, Nigeria’s largest polling observer group.

The current president, Muhammadu Buhari, will step down after two four-year terms.

Of the 18 presidential candidates, three main candidates have emerged in recent weeks to replace Buhari: the ruling party’s candidate, the opposition party’s main candidate, and a third party that has garnered strong support from struggling younger voters. with an unemployment rate of 33%. .

But it’s not yet clear whether those supporters will turn out in force at polling stations because Nigerians have waited hours in lines at banks across the country in the past week looking for money.

Kingsley Emmanuel, 34, a civil engineer, said the cash crunch is a real handicap for many potential voters.

“They don’t have cash to pay for a commercial vehicle and most of them don’t accept (money) transfers,” he said from a polling station in Yola City in Adamawa state’s Yola city. “So it’s very difficult for them to access your voting unit.”

Ballot papers are displayed on a table at a polling station during the presidential election in Agulu, Nigeria.
Ballot papers are displayed on a table at a polling station during the presidential election in Agulu, Nigeria (Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP)

The vote is being closely watched because Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and one of the continent’s top oil producers. By 2050, the UN estimates that Nigeria will tie with the United States as the third most populous nation in the world, after India and China.

It is also home to one of the largest youth populations in the world; About 64 million of its 210 million people are between the ages of 18 and 35, with a median age of 18.

Favor Ben, 29, who owns a food business in the capital Abuja, said she backs third-party candidate Peter Obi.

“Obi knows what Nigerians need,” he said. “He knows what’s really bothering us and I think he knows how to address it.”

Mr. Buhari’s tenure has been marked by concerns about his failing health and frequent trips abroad for medical treatment. Two of the leading candidates are in their 70s and both have been in Nigerian politics since 1999.

By contrast, at 61, Labor’s Obi is the youngest of the favorites and had risen in the polls in the weeks before Saturday’s vote.

Supporters of Labor Party candidate Peter Obi wait outside a polling station to greet him in Agulu.
Supporters of Labor Party candidate Peter Obi wait outside a polling station to greet him in Agulu (Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP)

Still, Bola Tinubu is strongly supported by the ruling All Progressives Congress party as a major supporter of the current president.

And Atiku Abubakar is credited as one of the richest businessmen in Nigeria, having also served as vice president and 2019 presidential hopeful for his People’s Democratic Party.

Analysts have called it one of Nigeria’s most unpredictable elections, with Obi a surprise candidate in what is often a two-horse race.

But Tinubu, from the ruling party, insisted on Saturday that he would prevail.

When asked if he would congratulate the winner of the election if it wasn’t him, Tinubu replied, “It has to be me.”

Abubakar also told reporters after voting on Saturday that he is “very optimistic” about this year’s election.

A woman deposits her vote in Yola
A woman casts her vote in Yola (Domingo Alamba/AP)

For the first time, Nigerian election results will be transmitted electronically to the headquarters in Abuja, a step that officials say will reduce voter fraud.

The officials also said they will impose a ban on mobile phones inside voting booths to prevent vote buying; Vote images are usually submitted as proof that people were paid to elect a certain candidate.

The full impact of Nigeria’s currency crisis on Saturday’s election is not immediately clear, although officials said they were able to secure much of the money the government needed to carry out the vote.

In Lagos, a policewoman who was queuing at a bank to withdraw cash said on Thursday she had not been able to go to where she was deployed for electoral duties because she could not get money.

After officials announced the decision to redesign Nigeria’s currency, the naira, in November, the new notes have been slow to circulate. At the same time, older banknotes were no longer accepted, creating a shortage in a country where many use cash for everyday transactions.


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