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Nigerians Vote In Tight Presidential Election


Nigerians are voting for a new president and lawmakers today. And in some parts of the country, that means braving threats by Boko Haram. The extremist group has reportedly forced voters away from polling stations in three villages. There are 14 candidates who are running for president, including the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, and a former military leader, in what's being called the tightest race in Nigeria's history. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the capital, Abuja. And she joins us now. Ofeibea, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And what can you tell us? What's the latest about Boko Haram's assaults?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, we're told by the Nigerian police that apparently some Boko Haram insurgents launched two deadly attacks on voters in the northeast. And of course, the northeast is where the insurgency, the uprising has been happening for the past six weeks. And this is the zone of insecurity that has been such a priority campaign issue in Nigeria. And then we're also told by witness that Islamist gunmen forced villagers to abandon three polling stations in the northeast and that gunmen have reportedly - and it's the military telling us this - shot dead a soldier in an ambush in the oil capital Port Harcourt, which is in the south, plus two other bombing incidents in eastern Nigeria - southeastern Nigeria, apparently with no casualties. So there have been isolated incidents, otherwise, mainly peaceful voting.

SIMON: So this does not jeopardize the vote, which we'll remind listeners had to be postponed last month.

QUIST-ARCTON: Not that we're hearing, Scott. The vote is going ahead. Although, because of technical glitches with the new biometric card readers that read your fingerprint, show your pictures, etcetera - apparently, I've been told by Kayode Idowu, who's a spokesman of the electoral commission, that voting will be extended in some areas tomorrow and that there are provisions in the commissions guidelines for this. But as far as the - anything more serious - apart from the fact of course that it appears that some people have died, it appears the vote has gone ahead mostly smoothly and peacefully in most of Nigeria.

SIMON: Make us more familiar, if you cold please, with the two top candidates, beginning with President Jonathan.

QUIST-ARCTON: President Goodluck Jonathan, who campaigned on continuity and says he is the reliable person who pushes progress development and democracy in Nigeria. The main opposition presidential contender is Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader here in Nigeria. Of course, there are 12 other candidates, but these are the two front-runners. General Buhari says he is the one who is tough on security and in security and that he's also tough on corruption. I asked him that on Thursday when he gave a news conference. And he says that President Jonathan and his team have failed. That's it's only in the past six weeks after six years of an uprising and an insurgency that has killed thousands of people that they have been able to put Boko Haram on the back foot. Now, although Boko Haram has been pushed out of much of the zone in the northeast that it occupied by the Nigerian forces backed up by troops from neighboring countries - Chad, Niger and Cameroon - they are still able to strike in, you know, I guess we'd call it guerrilla tactic bombings that have killed people in recent weeks. So it's not over, and both men saying they're the ones who can end this insurgency.

SIMON: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Abuja, Nigeria. Thanks so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.