LAGOS (AFP) – Nigerians voted on Saturday for a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari in a tight race with three frontrunners competing for the first time in the country’s modern history.
Nearly 90 million people were eligible to vote, with many Nigerians saying they hoped the new leader of Africa’s most populous democracy would tackle a security crisis, the sluggish economy and widening poverty.
For the first time since the end of military rule in 1999, a third serious candidate has emerged to challenge the dominance of Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“Nigeria is in a big mess. We need the right leaders,” said Pastor John Fashugba, 76, voting in Lagos. “This election will be a great opportunity for us.”
Polling stations were meant to open at 0730 GMT, but election officials or materials arrived late in numerous centres visited by AFP in Lagos, southern Port Harcourt, and the northwest.
Buhari, a former army commander, steps down after two terms in office, with many critics saying he failed in his promises to make Nigeria a safer and less corrupt country.
Wearing a blue robe, APC’s Bola Tinubu, 70, a former Lagos governor and political kingmaker, voted in his stronghold in the city accompanied by tight security.
Known as the “Godfather of Lagos” for his influence, he says “It’s my turn” for the presidency and can count on APC’s structure and his own political network.
He faces a familiar rival -- PDP candidate and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 76, who is on his sixth bid for the top job and touts his business experience to fix the economy.
“This is more credible than the previous elections,” Abubakar said, voting in his hometown in Yola, northeast Adamawa State.
But both are old guard figures who have fought off corruption accusations in the past.
The emergence of a surprise third candidate appealing to young voters, Labour Party’s Peter Obi, 61, has thrown the race open with his campaign for change.
“I want Nigeria to move forward. We’ve been moving backward for years,” said Chiobueze Otueh, voting in southeast Anambra State.
“We need someone different than these old politicians. We’ve seen their faces for so long.”
The success of Saturday’s election will be closely watched after West Africa’s democratic credentials took a knock from coups in Burkina Faso and Mali.
Cash and fuel shortages in the run-up to the election have also left many Nigerians angry and struggling more than usual in a country already hit by more than 20 percent inflation.
Presidential elections have in the past often been marked by violence, ethnic tensions, vote-buying and clashes between supporters of rival parties.
Streets in Lagos and other cities were calm on Saturday as traffic was restricted.