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Tension Mounts as Nigerians Elect State Officials


Nigerians are voting Saturday to elect state governors and legislators, in the first of two-part elections, which will see the emergence of a new president in a week's time. Gilbert daCosta in Abuja reports for VOA that the elections have been overshadowed by concerns about possible voting fraud and violence.

Most voting centers recorded very high turnouts. However, at several of Nigeria's 120,000 polling centers, voting materials and officials were late arriving.

At the Garki village polling center in Abuja, officials arrived an hour late, and the presiding officer, Joy Egwu, issued stern instructions to the long lines of anxious voters.

"If you come and cause trouble here, we will hand you over to police or security men here," she said. "So, you behave yourself as an adult and there should be no campaigning here. Officially, voting stops by 3 p.m. If you come after 3 p.m., you will not be allowed to vote. Finally, you have to follow the line. If you are not with your voter cards, you don't have any reason to be here."

At another polling center in Abuja, Mark Azubuike was visibly delighted to be the first to cast his vote, nearly two hours after voting was scheduled to start.

He told VOA about his hopes for his country.

"In the last elections [in 2003], we voted, and after voting, for some reasons, it turned out the way it did," he recalled. "The optimism is that our votes will count this time. We have done our part. I hope for a new set of leaders that will take Nigeria to the next level of development. Generally, we have not moved at the pace we should, given our human and natural resources."

Nigeria's state governors are powerful figures, who control vast sums of money handed over to the states each month under the country's system of federal, state and local governments.

Violence and controversy have marred almost all of Nigeria's elections since it gained independence from Britain in 1960.

Security forces have been deployed in very large numbers, in some cases equipped with armored personnel carriers. The streets were empty of cars, as the government enforced a ban on automobile traffic.

Gunmen attacked a police station in the oil city of Port Harcourt Saturday, killing at least six officers. Three soldiers also were fired upon in a separate incident.

In a move to bolster security, the government announced the closure of Nigeria's land and sea borders for 12 hours Saturday.

Presidential elections are scheduled for April 21.

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