Nigerians vote amid tight security after violence

LAGOS Sat Apr 9, 2011 1:14pm BST

1 of 4. An election official inks the thumb of a voter in Nigeria's parliamentary elections in the northern city of Kano, April 9, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Joseph Penney

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LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerians voted in a delayed parliamentary election on Saturday, voicing determination to hold a credible poll in Africa's most populous nation despite chaotic organization and violence.

At least seven more people were killed in four separate incidents in the last few hours before polling. Those deaths followed the killing of at least 10 people by a bomb at an election office late on Friday.

Violence which has taken around 100 lives in the run-up to the election, as well as the logistical chaos which forced the postponement of the vote a week ago, have renewed doubts over whether democracy can work in Nigeria.

"We want to show the rest of the world that we are ready for democracy," said Mukaila Odukoya, a 45-year old trader, in the Obalende district of Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos.

"This one is going to be far, far better than the past. This is going to be one man one vote. It is not going to be easy for people to buy ballot papers, though they are trying," Odukoya said, proudly clutching his voter registration card.

Nigeria, with more people than Russia, has failed to hold a fair and orderly vote since military rule ended 12 years ago.

Saturday's parliamentary vote will be followed by the more important presidential election on April 16, which President Goodluck Jonathan is tipped to win. Governorship polls in 36 states will be held on April 26.

Initial signs were that preparations were better in much of Nigeria than during the first attempt to hold the vote, when ballot papers failed to reach most of the country.

Security was noticeably tighter. Soldiers used tables, tires and even a hatstand as makeshift barricades to enforce traffic restrictions, while children on bikes shared deserted eight-lane highways in Lagos with footballers and the odd family of goats.

HIGH HOPES

Enthusiastic voters lined up at polling centers from the swamps and teeming cities of the south to the dustblown north on the fringes of the Sahara Desert.

"I came out to defend my democracy," said Suleiman Garuba, 45, in the ancient Islamic center of Kano, the second biggest city. "I saw people coming out in masses. I decided to join them and vote to become part of the change we are clamoring for."

But there were problems too.

An opposition politician was shot dead in the far northeastern Borno State on Saturday and two others died of wounds from a shooting there on Friday. Five people were killed overnight in western Osun State, four of them in a church.

In the ever volatile Niger Delta, where Nigeria pumps most of its oil, voter materials were hijacked in the village of Ekeremor where shooting broke out a week ago. Scores of youths attempted to overrun the electoral office in Brass, leading to clashes between rival supporters in which one person was killed.

Security was tightened nationwide after a bombing killed at least 10 people late on Friday at an office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Suleja, on the edge of the capital Abuja. There was no claim of responsibility.

"There are some anti-social elements that want to derail the process of the voting, but they will not succeed," said President Jonathan after registering to vote at his village in the Niger Delta.

Under procedures to try to stop cheating, up to 73 million voters first registered from 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) before voting from 12.30 p.m., though voting started early in some places.

The ballot was called off last Saturday after voting slips and other materials failed to reach most of Nigeria.

Another delay will affect voting in places, although it is due to be held in almost 90 percent of constituencies.

Seats in the national assembly are fiercely contested by candidates who stand to win a package whose benefits alone amount to more than $1 million a year.

The ruling People's Democratic Party may remain the biggest party, but with a smaller parliamentary majority. The PDP holds more than three-quarters of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives and of the 109 in the Senate.

(Additional reporting by Joe Brock in Suleja, Joseph Penny in Kano, Camillus Eboh in Abuja, Samuel Tife in Yenagoa, Ibrahim Mshelizza in Hawul; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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