Nigeria's president and main rival confident as polls close
* President Buhari, opposition's Atiku leading contenders
* Nigeria is Africa's biggest economy, top oil producer
* Islamic State says carried out attack in Maiduguri
* GRAPHIC-Nigeria presidential election: https://tmsnrt.rs/2E6qkDO
(Adds electoral body comments, Islamic State attack claim)
By James Macharia and Ahmed Kingimi
ABUJA/MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Nigeria began
counting votes in Saturday's closely-fought presidential
election although the electoral commission extended voting in
some places where polling stations opened late or ballot
President Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger,
businessman Atiku Abubakar, both said they were confident of
victory when casting their ballots in an election which was
already delayed by a week due to logistical problems.
The vote in Africa's biggest economic power is too close to
call, with the outcome hinging on which man voters trust most to
revamp an economy still struggling from a 2016 recession.
Buhari, a former military ruler who is seeking a second
elected term faces Atiku, a former vice president who has
pledged to expand the role of the private sector in Africa's
most populous nation and top oil producer.
They lead a field of more than 70 candidates in an election
which was postponed last Saturday just hours before it was due
On Saturday, voting had been completed in some areas and the
counting of ballots was taking place, Reuters witnesses said.
"The Independent National Electoral Commission is generally
satisfied with the process and the procedures for the conduct of
these present elections," INEC official Festus Okoye told
reporters in the capital, Abuja.
But he said there had been challenges related to the delayed
start of voting in some polling stations and INEC had extended
hours in the places affected.
Voting officially began at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) and was due to
close at 2 p.m. Okoye said 68 percent of polling units had
opened by 10 a.m.
Okoye said INEC was investigating reports of attempts to
steal electoral material in Lagos state and the southeastern
state of Anambra, as well as violence in the oil-rich southern
state of Rivers.
Problems related to malfunctioning voter card machines were
mostly resolved, he added.
In the northeast, where Islamist insurgents have waged a
decade-long war, blasts were heard in Maiduguri, state capital
of Borno state, shortly before polls were due to open. In
neighbouring Yobe state, residents in the town of Geidam fled an
attack around the same time.
A group called Islamic State West Africa Province, an
off-shoot of Boko Haram, claimed it had carried out an attack in
Maiduguri. Boko Haram had warned people not to vote.
Army spokesman Colonel Sagir Musa earlier said there had not
been any attack on Maiduguri, but there had been an exercise by
the military. He called the Geidam attack "futile" and said
there were no casualties.
Buhari, who voted in his hometown of Daura in the northern
state of Katsina, said: "I will congratulate myself, I'm going
to be the winner," when asked by reporters if he would
congratulate his rival, should Atiku win.
Atiku cast his ballot in the eastern Adamawa state.
"I am impressed by the turnout of the people," he told
"I look forward to a successful transition."
Some of the country's 72.8 million eligible voters were
frustrated by delays.
Kingsley Moghalu, a presidential candidate for the Young
Progressives Party, said he had only managed to vote at noon in
the southeastern state of Anambra. He said polls opened two
hours late and machines were not working.
"If as a presidential candidate my polling unit can be
treated in this manner, I can imagine what a lot of Nigerians
are going through in many parts of the country," he said.
Other voters echoed his concerns.
"I've been to 10 polling units today. I've been redirected
many times," said Victor Kanoba, a voter in Lagos.
John Tomaszewski, an observer with the joint U.S. National
Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute
delegation, said delays had been expected given the challenge of
getting materials to the polling stations in time.
"Logistics weren't properly managed despite the postponement
of the polls," said Idayat Hassan, director of Abuja-based
think-tank Centre for Democracy and Development.
However, in Lagos' business district Victoria Island,
Reginald Anthony, 45, who runs a transport business, said: "We
are seeing a transparent election, everything is open for
everyone to see".
After voting in the northern Kano state, Hadisa Hayatu, a
38-year old housewife, said: "I voted for Buhari because he has
assured us that he is going to build on what he has done on
security and other issues."
An Atiku supporter in Kano, stylist Laurie Isaac, 27, said:
"We need change. I need more work. I need my salary to
(Reporting by Paul Carsten, Seun Sanni, Aaron Ross, Abraham
Achirga, Adewale Kolawole, Afolabi Sotunde, Ardo Hazzad, Didi
Akinyelure, Garba Muhammed, Mike Oboh, Nneka Chile, Ola Lanre,
Percy Dabang, Camillus Eboh, Christian Merenini, Tife Owolabi,
and Ulf Laessing in Tunis;
Writing by James Macharia and Alexis Akwagyiram;
Editing by Toby Chopra and Robin Pomeroy)
First Published: 2019-02-23 09:56:50
Updated 2019-02-23 21:25:41
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