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Nigeria tallies votes after tight election hit by long delays

Nigeria is counting votes after a tightly contested election, with three frontrunners competing for the presidency of Africa’s most populous democracy in a ballot marred by long delays.

Nearly 90 million people were eligible to vote on Saturday for President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor, with many Nigerians hoping their new leader would tackle a widening security crisis, the sluggish economy and growing poverty.

For the first time since the end of military rule in 1999, a third serious candidate has emerged to challenge the dominance of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The three-way race sees former Lagos governor and APC candidate Bola Tinubu facing PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, and surprise third party candidate, Labour’s Peter Obi, a one-time Anambra State governor.

In Lagos and other cities, eager crowds gathered to watch counting in polling centres, where ballots were tallied by hand before they were sent on electronically.

“One! Two! Three!” people counted out loud together as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) presiding officer held up the ballot papers to crowds at one polling station in southern Port Harcourt.

“I want to make sure it’s transparent and that the election is free and fair,” said Juliette Ogbonda, a 30-year-old hotel receptionist, watching the counting.

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‘I came to vote and I will’

Nigeria’s past elections have often been tainted by fraud and vote-rigging claims. PDP’s candidate Abubakar claimed fraud when he was beaten by Buhari in the 2019 vote before the Supreme Court dismissed his lawsuit.

“Polling units in a large number of areas have closed and we started the counting of ballot papers,” INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu said.

Voting was meant to end at 1330 GMT, but by nightfall, angry voters were still waiting to cast ballots after INEC started late or problems with identification technology disrupted them in parts of Lagos, southern Port Harcourt and the northwest state of Kano.

INEC said people still in lines after could cast their ballots.

In southeast Anambra State, officials counted votes at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, where crowds of voters danced.

But desperation was clear in another nearby centre.

“It is not normal. I will wait all night, I came to vote and I will,” said student Blessing Mbanefo, 21, waiting to vote. “I’m ready to sleep here.”

INEC has not said when official results will be announced though it is expected over the next few days as tallies are uploaded on an online portal.

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