Nigeria starts to count votes as final ballots cast after delays

February 24, 2019

ABUJA (Reuters) – A handful of polling stations remained open to allow more Nigerians to vote on Sunday in what is expected to be a tight presidential race between President Muhammadu Buhari and businessman Atiku Abubakar in Africa’s top oil producer.

Buhari, 76, a former military ruler who is seeking a second elected term on an anti-corruption platform faces Atiku, 72, a former vice president who has promised to expand the role of the private sector in Africa’s largest economy.

Voters had queued late into the night on Saturday in a few areas of Africa’s most populous nation where polling stations had opened late or ballot machines malfunctioned. A handful of these opened again on Sunday to make up for the delays.

Nearly 73 million eligible voters cast their ballots from a pool of more than 70 presidential candidates in an election which was postponed the previous Saturday, just hours before it was due to begin, due to logistics.

It was not clear when the outcome of the results would be announced.

“Everything is going on well with the count,” said Festus Okoye, an Independent National Electoral Commission official.

“From Tuesday onwards we should have a substantial number of results.”

Both Buhari, the flagbearer of the All Progressives Congress and Atiku, who represents the People’s Democratic Party, expressed confidence that they would win the election.

“The best candidate must emerge and people’s opinion must count,” said Asiwaju Ola, a businessman in the capital Abuja.

Buhari’s northern Kano state stronghold was one of the key battlegrounds in the closely-fought election.

“It will be bitter if Atiku wins but we will have to accept it,” Ali Adamu, 50, a driver in Kano said.

Henry Okalome, 55, a trader in Kano who voted for Atiku said: “we didn’t expect that the election would be so smooth … we thought people might be dying.”

The contest between Buhari and Atiku hinges on revamping an economy struggling to recover from its first recession in 25 years, which it slipped into in 2016 and emerged from in 2017.

Buhari has focused his campaign on rooting out corruption, but critics say there have not been any significant convictions in his first term.

Atiku has said he would aim to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025, if elected, but has for years been dogged by corruption accusations, which he denies.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram, Nneka Chile, Aaron Ross; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Keith Weir)

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