Vote counting is underway after Nigerians headed to the polls Saturday to elect a president, despite fears of violence and three explosions that wounded several people. Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan is favoured to win.
AFP - Nigeria counted votes on Sunday after a crucial presidential election and a bid by Africa's most populous country to hold its cleanest polls for head of state since the end of military rule.
Millions turned out to vote in Saturday's election that President Goodluck Jonathan was favoured to win, and results from a handful of areas showed him ahead, but it was far too early to draw any conclusions.
The electoral commission has said it expects to release full results within 48 hours after the end of balloting.
Voting was generally calm in most of the country, though three explosions hit the north -- one on Friday night and two on Saturday -- with several wounded reported from one.
The main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, alleged reports of fraud, but several observers gave the vote an initial thumbs up, stressing it was vital for Nigeria to set a positive example for the continent.
"I am hoping we are witnessing the giant of Africa reforming itself and getting its house in order and its affairs right," said Botswana ex-president Festus Mogae, the head of observers from the Commonwealth.
In the capital Abuja, a crowd gathered under the rain to watch votes being counted Saturday evening, recording the process with their mobile phones as an umbrella protected the ballots.
"Nigeria is now experiencing a true democracy, where we the politicians have to go to the people," Jonathan said after voting in his home state of Bayelsa in the oil-producing Niger Delta region.
Long lines formed at polling stations, particularly in the north and in Abuja, though turnout appeared to be less strong in the economic capital Lagos.
"I am excited because I am voting for change," said Susan Thompson, a 32-year-old tailor who jostled for space in line at a polling place in a slum outside the capital Abuja.
Jonathan has staked his reputation on the conduct of the polls, repeatedly promising a fair election in the continent's largest oil producer with a history of vote fraud and violence.
Buhari, 69 and an ex-military ruler, benefits from significant support in the country's north and has developed a reputation as an anti-graft figure, though his regime in the 1980s was also accused of outrageous rights abuses.
"We are still receiving reports of electoral fraud, of ballot stuffing in some places, but people are going to (electoral commission) offices to lodge complaints," he told journalists after casting his vote.
An enormous effort had been undertaken to hold a credible vote, but violence posed a risk, with bomb blasts and other attacks having killed dozens in the run-up to polls, including during last week's parliamentary ballot.
More than 73 million people registered to vote.
In an example of how difficult bringing about such change in Nigeria can be, a first attempt at holding parliamentary polls on April 2 had to be called off when material and personnel failed to arrive in many areas.
When the parliamentary poll finally did go ahead on April 9, officials and observers described it as a significant step forward.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party lost ground in the parliamentary vote, and opposition parties restarted negotiations afterward to unite against Jonathan.
But those talks collapsed, leaving the opposition with a difficult path to unseat an incumbent running for a party that has won every presidential poll since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
Some analysts have said, however, that a runoff cannot be ruled out.
Jonathan, 53 and a southern Christian, is the first president from the Niger Delta.
He had an almost accidental rise to power that culminated with him being thrust into office last year following the death of his predecessor, Umaru Yar'Adua.
His calm approach has led some to call him weak, while others say it is better suited to bringing about change in a nation of some 250 ethnic groups and a population roughly split between Christians and Muslims.
Date created : 2011-04-16