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Nigerian election: votes are counted after bitterly fought election

Voters reacts as their party ballots are counted at a polling station in Lagos, on February 25, 2023, during Nigeria's presidential and general election.
JOHN WESSELS
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AFP via Getty Images
Voters reacts as their party ballots are counted at a polling station in Lagos, on February 25, 2023, during Nigeria's presidential and general election.

LAGOS, Nigeria — Voting took place across Nigeria on Saturday to decide one of the most competitive and unpredictable polls in years. It will take a number of days until the final results are known. As always, the election brought ordinary life to an eerie standstill.

In Lagos, its most populous city, usually busy or gridlocked commercial streets emptied into a cycler's paradise. Soccer games filled otherwise empty roads. Bus stops, the front of restaurants, pharmacies and schools, were converted to polling units and lines winding round the block in the heat.

Youth play football on the streets before going to the polling unit at Ojuelegba in Lagos on February 25, 2023, during Nigeria's presidential and general election.
BENSON IBEABUCHI / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Youth play football on the streets before going to the polling unit at Ojuelegba in Lagos on February 25, 2023, during Nigeria's presidential and general election.

Elections are always major events, but many voters said this one had a pressing sense of urgency. The last eight years have seen widespread economic misery and a rising sense of vulnerability. Threats from armed groups have evolved from being isolated in regional pockets to being felt across much of the country.

Many voters said this election was a chance to set the country on a better course. Many both young and old said they were voting for the first time.

While voting went smoothly in many areas, in others it was riddled with challenges and risk. Voters at a polling station in Surulere, a district in Lagos, queued for up to seven hours before they casted their ballots. Electoral commission staff arrived late, and the voter verification system faced technical failures. Some went home in frustration. Others complained bitterly but waited, determined to vote. But when they did, relief soon gave way to fear as masked gunmen suddenly arrived, firing and snatching the ballot box away.

After the gunmen left, many searched the ground for their belongings, now littered with ballot sheets, phones, slippers, then quickly went home. But some waited to see if voting would restart again.

Tom Saater contributed to this story contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.