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WTO Chief, Okonjo-Iweala Waits to Cast Ballot Amid Glitches

Voting was delayed by hours at polling units across Nigeria on Saturday, as the presidential election got off to a slow start after the electronic system to verify voters malfunctioned at many centers and election workers arrived late.

Voters at sites in every corner of the country reported problems with the new electronic Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, or BVAS, which is meant to smooth out the voting process in Africa’s most populous country. Instead, the devices, which don’t need internet connection, weren’t accrediting citizens — including the governor of oil-rich Rivers State in the southeast.Nyesom Wike was seen waiting 20 minutes to cast his ballot at a polling station in the state capital, Port Harcourt, while a person mopped sweat from his brow. He was asked to come back later while more than 100 people remained in the queue behind him. 

According to Bloomberg, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala tweeted that she was waiting to vote for an hour but election officials weren’t present.

New Electronic Voting System Hiccups (Feb. 25, 10:45 a.m.)

Saturday’s Nigerian election is the first using new technology meant to improve transparency and curb rampant rigging that has marred past votes — and may also mean a winner is declared earlier than in past polls.

The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, or BVAS, authenticates voters through their fingerprint and facial recognition, and is supposed to allow only validly registered voters to cast their ballots. The electoral commission said that it had fixed bugs in the system that were exposed when it was used in state elections last year.

“The 2023 Presidential elections is a litmus test for the new electoral law, especially on the deployment of electoral technology, and INEC’s power to review election results declared involuntarily or in violation of electoral guidelines” Yiaga, a non-governmental organization monitoring Nigeria’s election said, referring to the Independent National Electoral Commission.

But at one polling unit in the capital, Abuja, BVAS wasn’t working — so voters brought routers to the polling station to help officials, who ultimately declined the offer.

The country will also for the first time electronically transmit the results to a server controlled by the electoral commission. Past elections have been marred by manipulated results between the polling units and INEC offices.

That could mean authorities are able to announce a winner earlier than in past elections.

Voting Starts for New President (Feb. 25, 9:02 a.m.)

Nigerians began voting on Saturday in one of the closest elections since the West African nation’s return to democracy two decades ago.

More than 175,000 polling stations were scheduled to open at 8:30 a.m. local time, with 87.2 million people who registered to vote eligible to cast their ballots. The polls are scheduled to close at 2:30 p.m., though the electoral commission has said it will allow anyone who’s already in the queues at that time to vote.

While there are 18 candidates vying to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari the race will come down to three of the contenders — Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and outsider candidate Peter Obi of the Labour Party.  

Candidate Who Led Polls May Come Up Short (Feb. 25, 6:33 a.m.)

Nearly every opinion poll before Saturday’s presidential election in Nigeria put Obi far out in front — making him the first third-party candidate with a real shot at the top job in Africa’s biggest democracy.

The two major parties scoff, as do many observers. Despite the former Anambra state governor’s passionate young following — known as “Obidients” — Nigeria’s complex electoral math and the sheer cost of mounting a credible national campaign means he may come up short.

To win in the first round, a candidate needs to secure a simple majority of all votes cast and at least a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital, Abuja. The problem for Obi is that his support is concentrated in the south, which has far lower turnout than the more populous north.

Naira Scarcity Adds to Inflation Pain (Feb. 24, 6:43 p.m.)

Heineken NV’s Nigerian unit said a shortage of naira banknotes has worsened a lack of demand by consumers after inflation curbed purchasing power.

The situation has been compounded in the past two months by increased security concerns before Saturday’s presidential elections.

“Nigeria business environment remains very turbulent,” Hans Essaadi, chief executive officer of Nigerian Breweries Plc, said on an investor call on Friday. “The naira scarcity has aggravated things.”

Land Borders Closed Before Election (Feb. 24, 11:51 p.m.)

Nigeria’s government ordered the closing of the nation’s land borders ahead of the election. 

The borders were to be shut for 24 hours from midnight on Saturday, the Nigerian Immigration Service said in an emailed statement. The tradition of closing borders dates back to the return of democracy in 1999 and is aimed at preventing non-Nigerians from crossing through the country’s porous borders to vote.

Port Expansion (Feb. 23, 7:48 p.m.)

As Nigeria faces dwindling foreign direct investment, the a new Lekki Deep Seaport could offer a boost to West Africa’s trade volume.