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Nigeria's Election Marred by Violence, Logistical Problems


The presidential and legislative election in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, has taken a slow and troubled turn as many voting centers were without ballots for hours Saturday, while police said they had foiled an attack on election headquarters in Abuja. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the village of Lugbe outside the capital.

Tempers flared as hundreds of voters waited in the muggy heat amid open sewage, with no sign of ballot papers.

An observer delegation led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived before any election material.

After shaking hands with would-be voters, Albright went looking for officials from the Independent National Election Commission, known as INEC.

ALBRIGHT: "You are all INEC officials? And you have the voter registration lists? "

ELECTION OFFICIAL: "They are bringing everything."

ALBRIGHT: "But what do you have? Oh, you have the manual."

Another observer was former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark.

CLARK: "How many voting places are there here in this poll?"

ELECTION OFFICIAL: "There are about five."

CLARK: "So how many voting boxes do you have? Five?"

ELECTION OFFICIAL: "At the moment, we have one box, but they are bringing them in."

One resident, Victor, expressed the frustration of many waiting.

"I am disappointed with what is happening in Nigeria. No election," he said. "Last week, they said they did gubernatorial elections, but declared false winners. We are no longer happy. Our people are frustrated and we are suffering. People will say they have won and yet no election. It is just very unfair. Please we need a change. It is high time the whole system is changed for good. Our country is so messed up. No road. No electricity. No hospital. No water. No medical services, nothing is happening in Nigeria."

Some in line gave up and decided to go home.

"They say they are going to take action about these things, but we are standing [here for a long time], and we do not see anybody standing there or taking action about it," said another resident. "It is slow, because look at the time. What is the time now? That is what I am talking about."

But a father of six said he was going to wait. He said he hopes the new government will stop demolishing poor areas like Lugbe and instead help them.

"In Lugbe, we are poor people. We are so many, then we need hospitals, " he said. "If the government can give us. We do not want the government to demolish Lugbe, as they demolish many places, so we are begging the government to leave us in Lugbe, not to demolish Lugbe. They should leave us here."

Only men stayed in line. They said women were doing chores and would vote later.

Voting started in a few places on time, but in many cases ballot papers for the legislative election were missing. Officials said there were mistakes on some of them, prompting possible re-votes next week.

Presidential ballots had to be reprinted to include current vice president and opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, who was reinstated by a Supreme Court decision, but his party said old ballots were still being used.

Meanwhile, firefights which began overnight in southern Bayelsa state, including at the hotel where the ruling vice presidential candidate was staying, continued on voting day.

In Abuja, police said a tank laden with explosives crashed into a poll near election headquarters, but did not explode.

In the presidential election, more than 20 candidates are competing to replace President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was denied a chance to run for a third term by the outgoing parliament. The main contenders are the ruling party's Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and former military general Muhammadu Buhari.

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