'Missing' officials, hacked websites, sunburnt presidents… all in a day of a Nigerian election

The country is voting in what is expected to be the tightest election since the military relinquished power in 1999.

NIGERIANS  headed to the polls Saturday to elect a new president in the most closely fought election since independence, and while the enthusiasm was palpable in Africa’s most populous nation, it was not without its moments, including the hacking of the election manager’s website.

Many waiting to register to vote found themselves facing delays across the country as officials didn’t turn up, and equipment malfunctioned.

At some polling stations officials from the Independent National Electoral Commission hadn’t arrived on time for the 8 a.m. official start to begin the registration process, Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, who is monitoring the ballot, said by phone. In Karu, a southeastern district outside of the capital, Abuja, INEC workers only arrived at around 9:30 a.m.

“We came here around 7 a.m.,” Celestina Emehel, 54, a primary school teacher said as she queued to register in Karu. “We thought that by this time they should have started the election. The day will be long. I don’t think they will finish before 7 p.m.”

It was a story of delay repeated across the country, where handheld technology to read biometric voter identity cards is being used for the first time in what the country’s electoral commission hopes will cut voter fraud.

Nearly 70 million people are eligible to vote.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who is in a tight battle with former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, a 72-year-old northern Muslim who’s lost three previous elections, also ran into early headwinds.

Jonathan and his wife Patience turned up Saturday at his hometown polling station of Otuoke in southern Bayelsa state at about 0820 GMT to begin the accreditation process but problems with new voting technology forced him to temporarily abandon his plans.

The technology apparently malfunctioned, forcing Jonathan to stand around in the scorching heat before leaving.

The 57-year-old, whose ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has raised concerns about the technology and election officials’ ability to use it, acknowledged that “there may be an issue”.

But he joked, “Maybe it’s me?” while calling for patience.

“If I can endure, you see my sweat? I plead with all Nigerians to be patient, no matter the pains we take,” he told reporters outside the polling station.

“It’s the first time we are using this technology, PVCs (permanent voters card), card readers,” he said, adding that he was “not worried”, despite reports of difficulties in other states across the country.

Meanwhile the website of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was hacked on Saturday.

A headline on the election agency’s website said it had been “struck by Nigerian Cyber Army,” and “INEC don’t try to rig because we have been watching you day and night for months now.”

Kayode Idowu, a spokesman for INEC, confirmed by phone the website had been hacked.

The site was however back by 1200GMT.

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