Lagos, Feb 25 (EFE).- Voting got underway on Saturday in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 213 million inhabitants, to choose a presidential successor to Muhammadu Buhari in hotly contested elections.
Buhari is stepping down as his two-term limit has come to an end after 8 years in power.
Over 176,800 polling stations opened with around 93.5 million people registered to cast their vote in Saturday’s election, according to the electoral commission (INEC).
Polls will remain open from 08:00 local time (07:00 GMT) to 14:00 local time (13:00 GMT) in what is promised to be the most tightly-run ballot since the return of democracy in the West African nation in 1999.
A total of 18 candidates are vying for office, although polling suggests there are three frontrunners – Bola Tinubu, candidate for the governing All Progressives Congress and current governor of Lagos; Atiku Abubakar for the Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi for the Labour Party.
Obi was the first candidate to hit the polls in Agulu, the most populous city in the southeastern state of Anambra where the Labour leader was governor twice.
Nigerian Police have deployed over 300,000 security personnel across the country to ensure voting can go ahead in areas where armed groups operate and to provide a safe voting environment.
Africa’s largest democracy also ordered the closure of all of its land borders which started at midnight on Saturday and will remain in place until 0:00 hours on Sunday, the Nigerian Immigration Service said.
“Human and vehicular movements” have also been restricted by the Nigeria Police force until 18:00 local time on Saturday.
As a result of these restrictions some of Nigeria’s busiest roads in cities like Lagos, known for its huge traffic jams, woke up to empty streets on Saturday.
Voters will also be electing 469 lawmakers of the National Assembly, of which 109 are senators and 360 are members of the House of Representatives, parliament’s lower house.
To clinch a victory, Nigeria’s next president will have to secure a majority as well as 25% of votes in at least 24 of 36 seats.
If no one secures a clear majority, the most voted-for candidates would face off in a second round no later than 21 days after the first ballot.
This year’s ballot is set to become Nigeria’s most technologically advanced election by using biometric identification systems and by transmitting the election results electronically in a bid to avoid allegations of fraud that have plagued previous elections.
Last week inspector general of police Usman Alkali Baba said he had deployed over 300,000 security personnel across the country to ensure voting could go ahead in areas where armed groups operate and to provide a safe voting environment.
The electoral process will also be overseen by international observers, including a European Union commission led by MEP Barry Andrews and a team from the African Union led by former president of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta.
The EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that “these elections will be crucial for the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria, and for the stability of the region.”
Whoever emerges victorious will inherit a complex political and economic landscape amid Nigeria’s ongoing battle with insurgent groups that conduct recurrent attacks and kidnappings of civilians to secure large ransoms.
Africa’s top oil producer is also grappling with galloping inflation, soaring unemployment and the devaluation of its domestic currency.EFE