Long waits for voters in Nigeria as country awaits news of new president

Some frustrated Nigerians cast their ballots with flashlights while others stood watch at their polling stations as counting got under way late Saturday amid fears of vote tampering after a day of delays.

National collation of presidential ballots to begin midday Sunday, election chief says

Votes are seen lined up at a polling station in Lagos, Nigeria on Saturday, awaiting their chance to cast ballots in the presidential election.
Voters are seen waiting at a polling station in Lagos, Nigeria, on Saturday, to cast their ballots in the election. The country will have a new president, as the incumbent president is stepping down after two four-year terms in power. (Ben Curtis/The Associated Press)

Some frustrated Nigerians cast their ballots with flashlights while others stood watch at their polling stations as counting got under way late Saturday amid fears of vote tampering after a day of delays in Africa's most populous nation.

Election officials blamed the delays on logistical issues, though other observers pointed to the upheaval created by a redesigned currency that has left many unable to obtain bank notes. The cash shortage affected transport for voters, election workers and police officers providing security.

Voting ended well beyond schedule in many places after delays but some were still voting in a few areas where the exercise stretched into the night. In the northwest Bauchi state, Lagos-based Channels TV reported that voters were still voting using their torchlights at around 9 p.m. local time.

And in Abuja and Delta state, voters stuck around to monitor the process and ensure the results were not tampered with.

A man prepares to cast a ballot in Nigeria's presidential election.
A man prepares to cast his vote in Agulu, in Nigeria's Anambra state, on Saturday. (Temilade Adelaja/Reuters)

"Nightfall has come — anything can happen [now]," Torke Ezekiel said after casting his ballot.

While there were fears of violence on Election Day, voting was largely peaceful Saturday, though a dramatic scene unfolded in the megacity of Lagos in the mid-afternoon.

Associated Press journalists saw armed men pull up to the voting station in a minibus, fire shots in the air and snatch the presidential ballot box. The shots sent voters screaming and scattering for cover, and ballots strewn across the floor.

In the northeast state of Borno, at least five people including children, were wounded when Boko Haram extremists attacked voters in Gwoza town, local authorities said.

Mahmood Yakubu, head of Nigeria's election commission, said national collation of results in the presidential election would commence at noon on Sunday. In 2019, the winner of the presidential election was announced four days after the voting day.

"We are making very steady progress and we will continue to ensure that nothing truncates our democracy or truncates the will of the Nigerian people," he said.

18 presidential candidates

Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is stepping down after two four-year terms in Nigeria, a West African country where unemployment has soared to 33 per cent even as one of the continent's top oil producers.

Voters line up Saturday to vote in Nigeria's presidential election.
A large crowd of people stands in Kano, Nigeria, waiting to cast their votes during the election on Saturday. (Abraham Achirga/Reuters)

Out of the field of 18 presidential candidates, three front-runners emerged in recent weeks: the candidate from Buhari's ruling party, the main opposition party candidate and a third-party challenger who has drawn strong support from younger voters.

It remained unclear how many voters were deterred because of the cash crisis, which has left Nigerians with funds in their bank accounts unable to obtain the cash they need for things like gas and taxis.

The vote is being carefully watched as Nigeria is Africa's largest economy. 

A young population

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

People await results as presidential ballots are counted at a polling station in Awka, in Nigeria's Anambra state, on Saturday.
People are seen awaiting results during the counting of ballots in Awka, Nigeria, on Saturday. (Temilade Adelaja/Reuters)

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

"He knows what is actually disturbing us and I believe he knows how to tackle it," she said.

Buhari's tenure was marked by concerns about his ailing health and frequent trips abroad for medical treatment. Two of the top candidates are in their 70s and both have been in Nigerian politics since 1999.

By contrast, at 61, Obi of the Labour party is the youngest of the front-runners and had surged in the polls ahead of Saturday's vote.

Still, Bola Tinubu has the strong support of the ruling All Progressives Congress party as an important backer of the incumbent president. And Atiku Abubakar has the name recognition of being one of Nigeria's richest businessmen, having also served as a vice president and presidential hopeful in 2019 for his Peoples Democratic Party.