Gunfire heard in cities as Nigerians finally go to the polls

Published 02-23-2019

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DAURA, Nigeria (AP) - Gunfire opened Nigeria's delayed election on Saturday as President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a second term in Africa's most populous nation. Among the country's first voters, he said he was ready to congratulate himself in a race seen as too close to call.

Police said the blasts in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, shortly before polls opened were for "security purposes" in a show of force to deter the Islamic extremists that plague the region. Still, voting turnout appeared to be light as authorities tried to calm panicked, skeptical residents.

Gunfire also was heard in Port Harcourt in Nigeria's restive south, where the military presence was heavier than in past elections. One convoy in Delta state contained more than 25 vehicles with battle-ready soldiers.

Buhari brushed aside reporters' questions about whether he would accept a loss to top challenger Atiku Abubakar , a billionaire former vice president. The president, voting in his northern hometown of Daura, jokingly checked the name on his wife's ballot.

A smiling Abubakar, after voting in his hometown of Yola in the northeast, told reporters that "I look forward to a successful transition." He previously pledged to accept the results, provided they are credible.

Buhari called the voting process smooth, but some polling stations in other parts of the country were late to open and some officials worried that heavy security could intimidate potential voters.

"What's going on?" asked Buhari's campaign spokesman, Festus Keyamo, saying electoral commission workers arrived at his polling station in Delta state an hour and a half late. Voting had yet to start in other parts of Delta and Anambra states.

Multiple election observer groups reported delays, including in Lagos, Africa's largest city. In north-central Kaduna, lines were long but impatient while waiting for materials to arrive nearly three hours late. One state governor waited nearly an hour for a voting card reader to work properly, the Daily Trust newspaper reported.

Traffic restrictions were in place across the country, which also closed its borders. Ibrahim Mustapha, one Yola voter, was annoyed. "Transport is very hard to get," he said.

Many Nigerians said the election will be decided by economic issues after a rough term for Buhari that saw a rare, months-long recession.

The president "has failed," said David Ojo, a barber in Danbatta in northern Kano state who joined excited voters in supporting Buhari in 2015. They assumed t

"What's going on?" asked Buhari's campaign spokesman, Festus Keyamo, saying electoral commission workers arrived at his polling station in Delta state an hour and a half late. Voting had yet to start in other parts of Delta and Anambra states.

Multiple election observer groups reported delays, including in Lagos, Africa's largest city. In north-central Kaduna, lines were long but impatient while waiting for materials to arrive nearly three hours late. One state governor waited nearly an hour for a voting card reader to work properly, the Daily Trust newspaper reported.

Traffic restrictions were in place across the country, which also closed its borders. Ibrahim Mustapha, one Yola voter, was annoyed. "Transport is very hard to get," he said.

Many Nigerians said the election will be decided by economic issues after a rough term for Buhari that saw a rare, months-long recession.

The president "has failed," said David Ojo, a barber in Danbatta in northern Kano state who joined excited voters in supporting Buhari in 2015. They assumed the former military dictator would solve the insecurity crisis and that prosperity would follow, Ojo said. Neither has occurred.

The president in a final address to the nation on Friday vowed that the more than 72 million Nigerians eligible to vote would be able to do so in peace.

But the Boko Haram extremist group, its Islamic State-affiliated offshoot in the northeast and various agitators across the country, including bandits, oil militants and youth hired by politicians to disrupt the vote, could have other plans.

Observers said the delay of the election from last week, blamed on logistical challenges, could favor Buhari and the ruling party, with some Nigerians saying they didn't have the resources to travel to their place of registration a second time.

"After all, it is not my brother that is contesting," said Patience Okoro in Agbor in the south. "So why will I kill myself or waste my time?"

The delay also could hurt the election's credibility, some said.

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Traffic restrictions were in place across the country, which also closed its borders. Ibrahim Mustapha, one Yola voter, was annoyed. "Transport is very hard to get," he said.

Many Nigerians said the election will be decided by economic issues after a rough term for Buhari that saw a rare, months-long recession.

The president "has failed," said David Ojo, a barber in Danbatta in northern Kano state who joined excited voters in supporting Buhari in 2015. They assumed the former military dictator would solve the insecurity crisis and that prosperity would follow, Ojo said. Neither has occurred.

The president in a final address to the nation on Friday vowed that the more than 72 million Nigerians eligible to vote would be able to do so in peace.

But the Boko Haram extremist group, its Islamic State-affiliated offshoot in the northeast and various agitators across the country, including bandits, oil militants and youth hired by politicians to disrupt the vote, could have other plans.

Observers said the delay of the election from last week, blamed on logistical challenges, could favor Buhari and the ruling party, with some Nigerians saying they didn't have the resources to travel to their place of registration a second time.

"After all, it is not my brother that is contesting," said Patience Okoro in Agbor in the south. "So why will I kill myself or waste my time?"

The delay also could hurt the election's credibility, some said.

"The postponement casts a lingering doubt on the neutrality of (the electoral commission) such that unless Atiku is declared the winner, many will still believe that (the commission) colluded with the government to rig him out," said Jideofor Adibe, associate professor of political science at Nasarawa State University.

Those who turned out, however, dismissed concerns about having to wait.

"It does not matter, it is for the will of God to take place," voter Oseni Ukweni said in the capital, Abuja. "Everybody is excited to be here."

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Muhumuza reported from Yola, Nigeria. Uguru reported from Oleh, Nigeria. Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Kano, Nigeria, Sam Olukoya in Lagos, Nigeria, Ismail Alfa Abdulrahim in Maiduguri, Nigeria, and photographer Jerome Delay in Kaduna, Nigeria contributed.

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Follow AP's full coverage of the Nigeria elections here: https://www.apnews.com/Nigeria

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Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa

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Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari gestures to supporters after casting his vote in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Nigerian voters wait for the scheduled opening of the polling stations in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Opposition's presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, left, and his wife Titi Abubakar, right, cast their votes during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote, accompanied by his wife Aisha, in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


A voter points to the record for President Muhammadu Buhari on a voter registration list, before polls open in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Nigerian election officials display ballots to the public as people line up to cast their vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Nigerian police arrives at a polling station in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Nigerian election officials display ballots to the public as people line up to cast their vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Women prepare to cast ballots during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar waits to cast his vote during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Opposition Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, center, before casting his vote at the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Leading opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, gestures as he waits to cast his vote during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Leading opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar casts his vote during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Voters line up to cast their votes during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Voters line up to cast their votes during Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Supporters cheer as President Muhammadu Buhari leaves in his car after casting his vote in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Nigerian women vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari leaves after casting his vote in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Nigerian women vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Nigerians vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari speaks to the media after casting his vote in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote, accompanied by his wife Aisha, right, in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Women line up to cast their vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari jokingly looks across at the ballot paper of his wife Aisha, left, to see who she has voted for, before casting his vote in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari arrives to cast his vote in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari prepares to cast his vote in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Voters line up to cast their votes during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Nigerian men line up to cast their vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


A woman prepares to cast her votes during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


A woman makes thumps print on her ballot before casting her votes during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Nigerian voters wait for the scheduled opening of the polling stations in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Voters line up to cast their votes during Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Electoral officials carry ballot boxes before the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Nigerian electoral officials distribute the voting material before the scheduled opening of the polling stations in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Nigerian electoral officials and voters wait for the scheduled opening of the polling stations in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakarin in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari gestures to supporters after casting his vote in his hometown of Daura, northern Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Voters look for their names on voter registration lists before polls open in Daura, the hometown of President Muhammadu Buhari, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote, accompanied by his wife Aisha, in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Nigerians are going to the polls for a presidential election Saturday, one week after a surprise delay for Africa's largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) - The Associated Press


A woman casts her votes during the Presidential and National Assembly election in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Africa's most populous country goes to the polls on Saturday to decide whether President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term. While more than 70 people are running to lead Nigeria, the close race comes down to Buhari and a billionaire former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) - The Associated Press


Women line up to cast their vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is to face opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) - The Associated Press