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Turnout light in rare elections in Nigeria

Published Oct. 9, 2005

Turnout among this military-ruled country's potential 39-million voters was reportedly light Saturday in the first elections in a decade for a civilian president.

In Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, a turnout of less than 40 percent was reported at several polling stations, including the voting place of the Social Democratic Party candidate, millionaire publisher Moshood Abiola.

The other presidential candidate, millionaire bank chairman Bashir Tofa, of the National Republican Convention, was not able to vote. When he showed up at his polling station in the northern city of Kano, election officials informed him that his registration card was out of date. "All I know is that I had a voter card. I don't know whether it was old or new," Tofa said.

Nigeria's much-delayed transition to civilian rule is scheduled to take place Aug. 27, when the winning candidate will be inaugurated as president, ending the 8-year-old government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. The army has ruled Nigeria for 23 of its 33 years of independence. Results are not expected before Tuesday.

The military created both the Democratic and Republican parties and approved their candidates. It banned all other parties and barred numerous candidates from running in primaries because of alleged corruption and vote rigging.

The Foreign Ministry accused the United States of interference in Nigeria's internal affairs and ordered the expulsion of the U.S. Information Service director. The dispute came over a U.S. statement _ before announcement of the government decision to hold the elections _ criticizing any delay in Saturday's elections.