The general elections in Nigeria marked the end of a long and bitter campaign between two frontrunners: incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, 76, of the ruling All Progressives Congress, and opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, 72, and former vice president of the People’s Democratic Party.
The two leading candidates are Fulani Muslims from northern Nigeria, unlike in 2015, when religion and region played major roles in determining the outcome of the election where a Christian candidate lost to Buhari.
More than 84 million Nigerians have registered to take part in the crunch vote, and long queues were reported at several polling stations across the country early on Saturday. However, due to logistical problems and some cases of violence, polls have been put back to a later date in some areas.
The election had been due last week but was delayed at the last minute.
President Buhari cast his ballot in his hometown of Daura in the northern state of Katsina. Asked if he would congratulate his rival if he lost, he said: “I will congratulate myself.”
Most of the country was calm but there were reports of attacks by the Boko Haram Islamist militant group in the north, and voter intimidation and attempts to steal ballot boxes from some polling stations, especially in the southern states of Rivers, Lagos and Anambra.
In Lagos, one of Africa’s most populous cities, violence broke out at polling places, with shots fired in the air and ballot boxes set on fire as some voters rioted when election materials did not arrive on time.
A coalition of civil society groups reports that a total of 16 people were killed in violence throughout the country. This is less than in previous elections. In 2011, election violence claimed nearly 1,000 lives in the country’s north following Buhari’s defeat by then-President Jonathan.
Nigeria, Africa‘s biggest economy and the most populous, has one of the fastest-growing populations in the world, and one of the largest youth populations. Despite the economic progress, 91 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty. Whoever wins in Africa’s most populous nation and the largest economy will have to address power shortages, corruption, security threats, and an economic slowdown.
Unemployment, the economy and the continuing battle against Boko Haram dominated the campaign promises.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer but corruption and a failure to invest the proceeds from the industry have restricted the development in the country.
Eventually, it slipped into a recession in 2016 and a slow recovery has meant that not enough jobs have been created to cope with a large number of young people coming into the workforce. Currently, nearly a quarter of the working age population is unemployed.
Elections in Nigeria
There were 73 registered candidates running for the presidential election, but campaigning has been dominated by the two political giants and the established party machines behind them.
The candidate with the most votes is declared the winner in the first round, as long as that person gains at least 25% of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states.
The president’s All Progressives Congress (APC) has promised to take the country to the “next level”, arguing that in his first four-year term Mr Buhari has done a lot of “foundational work” that may not be immediately obvious.
Opposition leader Abubakar and his People’s Democratic Party have pledged “to get Nigeria working again”, saying that the president has wasted the last four years.
Until 1999 Nigeria was governed by either short-lived civilian administrations or military rulers. But this year marks 20 years since the return of democracy.
Mr Buhari was elected in 2015, after three earlier, unsuccessful runs for the presidency and the first time an opposition candidate had defeated an incumbent to become president.
During his presidency, he had remained abroad for a long time for unspecified health problems and has been unable to stamp out the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency.