Delays, truck bomb cause unease in Nigerian election

It is the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power since 1960.

Published April 22, 2007

KANO, Nigeria - Nigerians hoping for an honest leader to fight endemic corruption voted in presidential elections Saturday, but disarray at the polls and a failed truck bombing caused tension in a country trying to solidify democratic rule.

Africa's largest oil producer is seeking its first transfer of power between elected civilian leaders since independence from Britain in 1960. Other attempts have been overturned by annulments or coups.

Maurice Iwu, chairman of Nigeria's electoral commission, blamed the failed bombing on "desperate Nigerians not interested in contesting these elections."

The attacker pointed a tanker truck loaded with fuel and gas cylinders rigged to explode at the electoral commission headquarters and placed a rock on the accelerator before jumping from the vehicle.

The tanker ran into barriers and a power pole and stopped before reaching the building. There were no injuries.

Voting started despite the attack, but many polling centers opened late - some not at all - and opposition leaders complained of irregularities. Ballots in many parts of the country lacked serial numbers or any other distinguishing marks that would guard against fraud. Iwu said there was no time to print serialized ballots because one candidate had to be added this week.

"I'm begging Nigerians to be patient. We're meeting emergencies as best as we can," Iwu said.

A successful election would be key to advancing democracy in Africa's most populous nation. Although blessed with the world's seventh-largest oil industry and a comparatively well-educated population, Nigeria has long been known as "the sick man of Africa" and nearly ungovernable.

Its wealth was squandered or stolen during the decades of military rule, and most Nigerians live in slums without safe water, good schools or health clinics. A tiny elite lives behind guarded walls.

"Whoever wins should know we're not asking too much. We just want regular power and clean water," said Amina Dogo, an impoverished 62-year-old woman who voted in the northern city of Kano. "We don't want to live in their big houses."