In Nigeria, voters set on defending a free election

An anti riot Police officer walks past ballot boxes used during the presidential elections at the state headquarters of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Yola on February 26, 2023 the day after Nigeria's presidential and general election. PHOTO / AFP

What you need to know:

  • Nearly 90 million people were eligible to vote for a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, who is stepping down after two terms marked by worsening security and growing poverty.

Nigerians of all ages were determined to ensure a credible election outcome, monitoring polling centres as initial results from a presidential election trickled in on Sunday.

In the southern city of Port Harcourt, a dozen people were still at their polling station after the counting had finished late on Saturday, shouting at the electoral official to destroy unused ballots.

"The empty ballots, we want them to void them, so that they don't use them!" exclaimed 42-year-old Nkechi Njoku, who sells fabric and said she had not left since arriving to vote in the morning.

"We are protecting our votes," agreed Robert Ihuoma, a 38-year-old data analyst standing next to her.

Nearly 90 million people were eligible to vote for a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, who is stepping down after two terms marked by worsening security and growing poverty.

The three frontrunners vying for the job are former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu, 70, of the ruling All Progressives Congress, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party, 76, and surprise third candidate Peter Obi, 61, of the Labour Party.

The vote was mostly peaceful but the uploading of results to the central online database has been slow and fears of rigging are mounting. 

In the southeastern city of Onitsha -- in a region of Anambra state known for separatist violence and also Obi's home state -- voters gathered outside newsstands on Sunday hoping to read reports of early election results. 

"If Obi doesn't win, we will know there was a problem somewhere," said Ben Obah, 55, reading a daily paper.

Near the city's St. Mary church, Franklin Arinze said he would pray so that the "fraud guys are not elected."

Voting went ahead mostly peacefully in the state capital Awka but many people stayed up late to watch the counting. 

Hundreds of people, mainly students, counted out loud along with an electoral official showing the ballots one by one at a polling unit at Nnamdi Azikiwe University.

"For now, the election seems free and fair. I really hope it will be," said 24-year-old Kelvin Modilim. 

But nearby, voting continued late at night, causing anger. 

"The vote didn't even start before 12:00pm. They said the machine was not working. It is not normal. I will wait all night, I came to vote and I will," said 21-year-old student Blessing Mbanefo. 

Voters expressed similar fears in Port Harcourt, capital of the oil-rich Rivers state.

Inside Oginigba Townhall in the Obio Akpor area, the situation was chaotic on Saturday afternoon.

A hundred people surrounded the electoral officer trying to register voters who were shouting at her, waving their voters cards and pushing others.

"I've been here since 8:00am and I have not voted yet. We want to vote out the bad government! Most of us here are Obidients (Obi supporters), that's why we are waiting," said Josephine Samuel, 29, a marketing student.

The determination to vote freely was also strong in Lagos, which has the highest number of registered voters.

At a primary school in the Yaba area on Saturday, young voters were "surveilling" a polling unit, to "make sure" people could cast their ballots freely. 

Suddenly, fighting erupted because "everyone could see how people were voting". As the electoral officer agreed to move the voting booth, gunshots resonated in the distance. 

"They want to scare us because here a lot of people want change," said Jide, 35, who came back from Cameroon where he lives to vote for "a good president, a president for the youth".

 'Brighter future' 
As of Sunday morning, only 20 percent of results for the presidential election were available on the website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The commission has 14 days to officially announce results but an online tally could be made available in the next hours or days.

Meanwhile, the Foursquare Gospel Church in Lagos led a joyful morning celebration on Sunday.

"Nigeria is looking forward to change and a brighter future," said pastor Ibironke Lamidi, wearing a blue glittery dress. 

It is now "in the hands of God for a credible candidate to win."