Nigerians out in force for presidential vote

April 17, 2011 - 0:0

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigerians voted in masses on Saturday in what they hope will be their first credible presidential election for decades and could set an example across Africa.

Queues formed early across Nigeria, including the village of tin-roofed shacks in the Niger Delta where front-runner President Goodluck Jonathan voted and the dusty alleyway in the northern village of Daura where his main rival, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, cast his ballot.
Across most of the country of 150 million there was no sign of the chaos and violence that has dogged past elections although two bombs panicked voters in the troubled northeastern city of Maiduguri. There were no reports of casualties.
The polls pit Jonathan, the first head of state from the oil-producing Niger Delta, against Buhari, a northern Muslim with a reputation as a disciplinarian.
“People are coming out massively,” said Ogbu Titus, a 53-year old teacher at the courtyard of a primary school on the edge of Abuja where hundreds of people had gathered. There are more than 73 million registered voters.
The African giant, home to more people than Russia, has failed to hold a free and fair presidential election since military rule ended in 1999, leaving many of its citizens with little faith in the benefits of democracy.
But a relatively successful parliamentary election a week ago, deemed credible by observers despite isolated acts of violence, has renewed voter confidence. Turnout appeared to be much higher than for the parliamentary election.
“There is no mago mago,” said local election observer Agu Michael, 42, using the Yoruba expression for trickery in Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city. Market women took advantage of the swelling crowd to sell boiled plantain bananas and meat stew.
Leading a foreign observer team from the National Democratic Institute, former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark said: “Things seem to be quite orderly.”
President Jonathan, a former zoology teacher born to a family of canoe makers, is the favorite. He is backed by the national machinery of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), whose candidate has won every presidential race since 1999.
“Nigeria is now experiencing the true democracy, where we the politicians have to go to the people,” said Jonathan, voting with his wife Patience and his mother before leaving in a motorcade through cheering crowds.
“It can be described as a new dawn in our political revolution,” Jonathan said.
But Jonathan is resented by some in the north, who believe he is usurping the right of a northerner to the presidency for another four years. He inherited office after his predecessor, northerner Umaru Yar'Adua, died last year in his first term, interrupting a rotation between north and south.
Buhari, a strict Muslim known for his “War Against Indiscipline”, is hoping to capitalize on some of the resentment and is likely to win strong northern support despite his Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) being a young party.
The former general told Reuters he feared the ruling party was trying to manipulate the vote out of desperation.