Africa

Nigeria: Polls close in delayed parliamentary election

Voters are registered in Ibadan, Nigeria, 9 April
Image caption Many in Nigeria see this as a chance to put previous vote-rigged polls behind them

Voting has ended in Nigeria's parliamentary polls after a campaign marked by attacks and chaotic delays.

Polling had to be abandoned last week after election material failed to reach many areas.

Security is tight following sporadic violence in the campaign. Several people were hurt on Saturday in a blast at a polling station in the north-east.

About 73.5m are registered to vote, with President Goodluck Jonathan's PDP battling to maintain its majority.

'Ready for democracy'

The BBC's Caroline Duffield in Lagos says there are tight security controls across the country, with many towns and cities appearing deserted, borders closed and flights grounded.

The polling procedure began at about 0800 (0800 GMT) on Saturday, with registration of voters to avoid irregularities. Polling stations started taking votes at about noon.

First indications were that, although some officials failed to turn up on time, the organisation was better than last week.

Voting - for 360 seats in the lower chamber, and 109 in the Senate - had already begun last Saturday, and millions were queuing, when it was discovered that ballot papers were missing in some parts of the country, prompting delays due to the difficulty of replacing ballot papers.

Various issues have resulted in three separate announcements of postponements, while the elections for president and state governors have also been set back.

Despite the delays, our correspondent says, many people see these polls as a chance for Nigeria to escape the troubled days of vote rigging and violence that have plagued previous elections held since the end of military rule in 1999.

Politically the stakes are high, she says, with this being seen as a test of whether this government can hold a credible election.

One voter in Lagos, Mukaila Odukoya, told Reuters: "We want to show the rest of the world that we are ready for democracy. This one is going to be far, far better than the past."

Mr Jonathan is widely expected to win the forthcoming presidential poll, but his People's Democratic Party is under pressure to stave off a cut in its majority in the National Assembly.

The presidential elections have been put back a week to 16 April, with polls to choose the 36 powerful state governors now to be held on 26 April.

The campaigns have been marred by violence.

A number of people were injured on Saturday in an explosion at a polling booth in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, officials said.

On Friday, a bomb blast at the election commission's office in Suleja, 20 km (12 miles) from the capital Abuja, killed at least six people.

Also on Friday, in the north-eastern state of Borno, gunmen shot dead four people at a police station where election officials were preparing voting materials.

Nigeria: A nation divided

To win at the first round, a candidate not only needs the majority of votes cast, but at least 25% of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states. Goodluck Jonathan, of the PDP, reached that threshold in 31 states; runner-up Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC only did so in 16 states.

Nigeria's 160 million people are divided between numerous ethno-linguistic groups and also along religious lines. Broadly, the Hausa-Fulani people based in the north are mostly Muslims. The Yorubas of the south-west are divided between Muslims and Christians, while the Igbos of the south-east and neighbouring groups are mostly Christian or animist. The Middle Belt is home to hundreds of groups with different beliefs, and around Jos there are frequent clashes between Hausa-speaking Muslims and Christian members of the Berom community.

Despite its vast resources, Nigeria ranks among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the UN. The poverty in the north is in stark contrast to the more developed southern states. While in the oil-rich south-east, the residents of Delta and Akwa Ibom complain that all the wealth they generate flows up the pipeline to Abuja and Lagos.

Southern residents tend to have better access to healthcare, as reflected by the greater uptake of vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and diphtheria. Some northern groups have in the past boycotted immunisation programmes, saying they are a Western plot to make Muslim women infertile. This led to a recurrence of polio, but the vaccinations have now resumed.

Female literacy is seen as the key to raising living standards for the next generation. For example, a newborn child is far likelier to survive if its mother is well-educated. In Nigeria we see a stark contrast between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. In some northern states less than 5% of women can read and write, whereas in some Igbo areas more than 90% are literate.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and among the biggest in the world but most of its people subsist on less than $2 a day. The oil is produced in the south-east and some militant groups there want to keep a greater share of the wealth which comes from under their feet. Attacks by militants on oil installations led to a sharp fall in Nigeria's output during the last decade. But in 2010, a government amnesty led thousands of fighters to lay down their weapons.

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