Nigeria’s president and main rival confident as polls close

Voters gather to vote in Maiduguri on February 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2019
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Nigeria’s president and main rival confident as polls close

  • Suspected militants attacked Geidam town in northeastern Yobe state on Saturday forcing people to flee

ABUJA/MAIDUGURI, Nigeria: Nigeria began counting votes in Saturday’s closely-fought presidential election although the electoral commission extended voting in some places where polling stations opened late or ballot machines malfunctioned.
President Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger, businessman Atiku Abubakar, both said they were confident of victory when casting their ballots in an election which was already delayed by a week due to logistical problems.
The vote in Africa’s biggest economic power is too close to call, with the outcome hinging on which man voters trust most to revamp an economy still struggling from a 2016 recession.
Buhari, a former military ruler who is seeking a second elected term faces Atiku, a former vice president who has pledged to expand the role of the private sector in Africa’s most populous nation and top oil producer.
They lead a field of more than 70 candidates in an election which was postponed last Saturday just hours before it was due to begin.
On Saturday, voting had been completed in some areas and the counting of ballots was taking place, Reuters witnesses said.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission is generally satisfied with the process and the procedures for the conduct of these present elections,” INEC official Festus Okoye told reporters in the capital, Abuja.
But he said there had been challenges related to the delayed start of voting in some polling stations and INEC had extended hours in the places affected.
Voting officially began at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) and was due to close at 2 p.m. Okoye said 68 percent of polling units had opened by 10 a.m.
Okoye said INEC was investigating reports of attempts to steal electoral material in Lagos state and the southeastern state of Anambra, as well as violence in the oil-rich southern state of Rivers.
Problems related to malfunctioning voter card machines were mostly resolved, he added.

TERRORIST ATTACK
In the northeast, where radical insurgents have waged a decade-long war, blasts were heard in Maiduguri, state capital of Borno state, shortly before polls were due to open. In neighboring Yobe state, residents in the town of Geidam fled an attack around the same time.
A group called Daesh West Africa Province, an off-shoot of Boko Haram, claimed it had carried out an attack in Maiduguri. Boko Haram had warned people not to vote.
Army spokesman Col. Sagir Musa earlier said there had not been any attack on Maiduguri, but there had been an exercise by the military. He called the Geidam attack “futile” and said there were no casualties.
Buhari, who voted in his hometown of Daura in the northern state of Katsina, said: “I will congratulate myself, I’m going to be the winner,” when asked by reporters if he would congratulate his rival, should Atiku win.
Atiku cast his ballot in the eastern Adamawa state.
“I am impressed by the turnout of the people,” he told reporters.
“I look forward to a successful transition.”

DELAYS
Some of the country’s 72.8 million eligible voters were frustrated by delays.
Kingsley Moghalu, a presidential candidate for the Young Progressives Party, said he had only managed to vote at noon in the southeastern state of Anambra. He said polls opened two hours late and machines were not working.
“If as a presidential candidate my polling unit can be treated in this manner, I can imagine what a lot of Nigerians are going through in many parts of the country,” he said.
Other voters echoed his concerns.
“I’ve been to 10 polling units today. I’ve been redirected many times,” said Victor Kanoba, a voter in Lagos.
John Tomaszewski, an observer with the joint US National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute delegation, said delays had been expected given the challenge of getting materials to the polling stations in time.
“Logistics weren’t properly managed despite the postponement of the polls,” said Idayat Hassan, director of Abuja-based think-tank Center for Democracy and Development.
However, in Lagos’ business district Victoria Island, Reginald Anthony, 45, who runs a transport business, said: “We are seeing a transparent election, everything is open for everyone to see.”
After voting in the northern Kano state, Hadisa Hayatu, a 38-year old housewife, said: “I voted for Buhari because he has assured us that he is going to build on what he has done on security and other issues.”
An Atiku supporter in Kano, stylist Laurie Isaac, 27, said: “We need change. I need more work. I need my salary to increase.”


Brexit in disarray as Theresa May faces possible ouster plot

Updated 24 March 2019
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Brexit in disarray as Theresa May faces possible ouster plot

  • British politics is at fever pitch and nearly three years since the 2016 Brexit referendum
  • With Theresa May humiliated and weakened, ministers insist she and the British government are still in charge of the country

LONDON: The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union was in disarray on Sunday as Prime Minister Theresa May faced a possible plot by ministers to topple her and parliament prepared to grab control of Brexit from the government.
At one of the most important junctures for the country since World War Two, British politics was at fever pitch and, nearly three years since the 2016 referendum, it was still unclear how, when or if Brexit will ever take place.
With May humiliated and weakened, ministers insisted she and the British government were still in charge of the country, and that the best option was still for parliament to ratify May’s twice-defeated Brexit divorce deal.
As hundreds of thousands of people marched across central London on Saturday to demand another Brexit referendum, May was the subject of what The Sunday Times said was a “coup” by senior ministers seeking to oust her.
The newspaper cited 11 unidentified senior ministers and said they had agreed that the prime minister should stand down, warning that she has become a toxic and erratic figure whose judgment has “gone haywire.”
When asked by Sky about reports in The Sunday Times and other newspapers of a plot and whether she had run out of road, finance minister Philip Hammond said: “No. I don’t think that is the case at all.”
“Changing prime minister wouldn’t help us,” Hammond said. “To be talking about changing the players on the board, frankly, is self-indulgent at this time.”
Hammond said the best way forward would be for parliament to back May’s deal, although he said that it might not be approved and so parliament should then try to find a way to end the impasse.
“I’m realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the prime minister’s (Brexit) deal and if that is the case then parliament will have to decide not just what it’s against but what it is for,” he said.
Brexit had been due to happen on March 29 before May secured a delay in talks with the EU on Thursday.
Now a May 22 departure date will apply if parliament rallies behind the British prime minister and she is able to pass her deal. If she fails to do so, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave the EU without a treaty.
Some lawmakers have asked May to name her departure date as the price for supporting her deal, though it was unclear when a third vote might take place.
If May’s deal is dead, then parliament will try to find a different option. That opens an array of options including a much softer divorce than May had intended, a referendum, a revocation of the Article 50 divorce papers or even an election.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said May’s deal was the best option and urged people to get behind the prime minister.
“The government and the prime minister are in charge,” Barclay said. May went to her usual church service near her Chequers country residence on Sunday with her husband.
The Sunday Times reported that May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington, was one contender to be interim prime minister but others are pushing for Environment Secretary Michael Gove or Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“I don’t think that I have any wish to take over from the PM, I think (she) is doing a fantastic job,” Lidington told reporters outside his house.
“One thing that working closely with the prime minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task,” he quipped.
Lawmakers are due on Monday to debate a government motion saying parliament has considered a statement made by May on March 15 which set out the government’s next steps on Brexit, including the plan to seek a delay.
They are likely to propose changes, or amendments, to this motion setting out alternative ways forward on Brexit. These are expected to include a proposal to approve May’s deal only if it is put to a public vote.
While amendments are not legally binding, instead simply exerting political pressure on May to change course, lawmakers could use one to attempt to change the rules of parliament to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government.
A British election could be the consequence of parliament seizing control of the Brexit process if lawmakers back proposals contrary to the pledges the government was elected on, Barclay said.