KANO, Nigeria – Nigerians hoping for an honest leader to fight endemic corruption voted in presidential elections Saturday, but disarray at the polls and a failed truck bombing caused unease in a country trying to solidify democratic rule.
Africa’s largest oil producer is seeking its first transfer of power between elected civilian leaders since gaining independence from Britain in 1960. Other attempts have been overturned by annulments or military coups.
Maurice Iwu, chairman of Nigeria’s electoral commission, blamed the failed bombing on “desperate Nigerians not interested in contesting these elections.”
The attacker pointed a tanker truck loaded with fuel and gas cylinders rigged to explode at the electoral commission headquarters and placed a rock on the accelerator before jumping from the vehicle. The tanker ran into barriers and a power pole and stopped before reaching the building. There were no injuries.
Voting started despite the attack, but many polling centers opened late – some not at all – and opposition leaders complained of irregularities. Ballots in many parts of the country lacked serial numbers or any other distinguishing marks that would guard against fraud. Iwu said there was no time to print serialized ballots because one candidate had to be added this week.
A successful election would be key to advancing democracy in Africa’s most populous nation. Although blessed with the world’s seventh-largest oil industry and a comparatively well-educated population, Nigeria has long been known as “the sick man of Africa” and nearly ungovernable.
In the northern city of Katsina, the governing party candidate, Katsina State Governor Umaru Yar’Adua, cast his ballot and said Nigerians shouldn’t expect a flawless vote.
“Only the book of God is perfect,” said Yar’Adua, who is Muslim.
Yar’Adua is considered one of the three front-runners among 25 presidential candidates, along with former military leader Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The winner must gain the most votes nationwide and at least a quarter of ballots cast in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states. If not, a runoff election would be held within one month.
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