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World

Nigerians Go To The Polls

ARUN RATH, HOST:

While Nigerian troops continued an offensive against the Islamist militants Boko Haram, Nigerian voters headed to the polls today. Violence in the country had already postponed the presidential elections once, but the war is only one of a number of issues driving Nigerians to the polls. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us from one polling station in the capital, Abuja, where they've just finished counting the votes. Ofeibea, there were a lot of worries about violence heading into the polls today. Can you tell us what actually materialized and how it affected the voting?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Well, most places it was peaceful voting. I'm told that some areas people were so fed up of the new card-reading machines not working, that they got a little frustrated and a little angry. Even the president, Goodluck Jonathan, had to wait half an hour because the card reader could not read his fingerprints.

It was a two-step process. Your card had to be accredited they called it, verified first, and then later in the afternoon, you voted. But yes, there were incidents of violence, especially in the Northeast where the Boko Haram from insurgency has been terrorizing people for the past six years. We're told by the police that there were two deadly attacks on voters in the Northeast - at least six people dead there. Witnesses report that apparently gunmen forced villagers to abandon three polling stations in the Northeast. And in another part of Nigeria, in the oil capital in the South, Port Harcourt, the military say that gunmen shot dead a soldier. And then there were two more incidents in the East, very far away from the Boko Haram uprising. So yes, there were isolated incidents of violence, but generally a peaceful vote.

RATH: And what we're hearing in the background there, is that vote-counting activity going on?

QUIST-ARCTON: (Laughter) The vote counting has just ended. There was a huge hoorah as the presidential vote ballots were counted. And the winner here at this little polling station in Maitama, in the capital Abuja, the winner was Muhammadu Buhari. He is the main opposition presidential contender against the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan. There are 14 candidates altogether, but these two are the front-runners.

RATH: And Ofeibea, remind us what really distinguishes these two candidates aside from Goodluck Jonathan being the incumbent, obviously.

QUIST-ARCTON: President Goodluck Jonathan says he represents continuity, he represents reliability. Muhammadu Buhari says he is the man who is tough on security and insecurity and on corruption.

RATH: So beyond what the candidates are saying, what about the voters? What is driving them to the polls?

QUIST-ARCTON: Peace. Everybody you speak to say what they want in Nigeria is peace - peace from Boko Haram in the Northeast and peace because this is a country that has suffered post-election violence over the years. There have been messages of support from President Obama in the U.S. and from world leaders and regional leaders, saying Nigeria is our number one country on the continent. It is the political and economic heavyweight. It is the most populous country in Africa. If there is peace in Nigeria, there is peace in the region.

RATH: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the line from Abuja, Nigeria's capital. Good talking with you, Ofeibea. Thank you.

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