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Nigeria election mostly smooth

Some irregularity in vote seen as test of credibility

In Lagos, a woman casts her ballot during the presidential elections yesterday. Nigerians were hoping for a credible election unmarked by the violence and fraud of the past. In Lagos, a woman casts her ballot during the presidential elections yesterday. Nigerians were hoping for a credible election unmarked by the violence and fraud of the past. (Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)
By Jon Gambrell
Associated Press / April 17, 2011

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KAYAWA, Nigeria — Nigerians chose their president in an election yesterday many hoped would show how Africa’s most populous nation could hold a credible vote without the violence and rigging that marred previous ones, though children cast ballots and party officials helped others press their inked fingers to paper.

Despite widespread security concerns after bombs hit a vote-counting center and a polling station during last weekend’s legislative elections, voting in the oil-rich country was largely peaceful yesterday, though a police officer was fatally shot at a polling station in the volatile northeast.

“In recent decades, Nigeria had come to be known for flawed elections. People outside and Nigerians themselves had come to believe that elections could not reflect the will of the people. But, today people showed that they can change that,’’ said former Botswana President Festus Mogae, who led the Commonwealth Observer Group.

“We seem to be witnessing a giant of Africa reforming itself and putting its house in order,’’ Mogae said.

The chief European Union observer also said most stations opened on time, and that observers only saw a few cases of missing voting materials. But in the remote villages of northern Nigeria, where opposition candidates are drawing their support, some of the voters were smooth-cheeked boys not even 5 feet tall, wearing clothes too big for them.

Leaders at the polling station in Doge Game shouted at the children to go back into a nearby classroom until an Associated Press reporter left the scene. Nigerians must be 18 in order to cast ballots.

Elsewhere, party officials helped people ink their fingers and mark their ballots. One party worker even accompanied an elderly woman to drop off her ballot in the box despite regulations banning them from voting stations. And at one collation center in Lagos, volunteers carried blank ballots without supervision from election officials, though officials said the number of actual votes cast had already been recorded elsewhere.

Voters were deciding yesterday whether to keep incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan — a Christian from the south who took power after the Muslim president died following a lengthy illness and absence from office.

Jonathan is the candidate for Nigeria’s ruling party and is the clear front-runner, but several other candidates threaten to siphon off enough votes that it could go to a second round for the first time since Nigeria became a democracy 12 years ago.

Jonathan told reporters yesterday that Nigeria was experiencing a “new dawn’’ with the election, and that while he expected to win he would not interfere with the electoral process. Still, he said he hoped the weekend vote would be conclusive.

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