|Polls open in violence-scarred Nigeria|
Voting under way for parliamentary elections after blast targeting election office killed 10 and wounded dozens.
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2011 03:59
The blast, targeting the independent National Electoral Commission in Suleja, on the northwestern edge of the capital, Abuja, triggered fears that violence reminiscent of the nation's flawed 2007 vote could reignite.
The explosion came after a fatal shooting in Borno state of four people, including an official of the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party.
Saturday's parliamentary polls are the first in a string of elections to be held in Nigeria in the month of April. Presidential election is scheduled for next week while voting for governors are to be held on April 26.
President Goodluck Jonathan condemned Friday's blast and ordered an immediate increase in security at election offices hours before voting was to begin in polls that have already been delayed twice amid organisational chaos.
"The president's deepest sympathies go the families of these patriotic youth and he wishes to assure them that the federal government will do everything possible to bring their murderers to justice," he said in a statement.
Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Abuja, said politics in Nigeria was a "lucrative business" and "sadly some politicians are prepared to kill for the opportunity" to get into power.
The violence was a further blow to hopes of orderly elections in Africa's most populous nation.
Attahiru Jega, the national election chairman, postponed the parliamentary polls twice after voters turned up at polling stations to find there were no ballot papers and other election materials in many of the country's roughly 120,000 polling stations.
Many hoped Jega, a respected academic, would be able to lead Nigeria out of its dark history of flawed polls marred by violence and ballot-box stuffing since it became a democracy in 1999.
However, even he appears now to be overwhelmed by the logistical challenge of conducting elections in a nation twice the size of California that lacks reliable roads and railways.
"One man alone cannot overcome significant systemic and logistical challenges, nor can one person or one electoral event transform a political culture in which stolen elections and disregard for basic democratic principles have been the norm for decades," Johnnie Carson, the top US diplomat for Africa, said in a speech on Tuesday.
Speaking on Saturday, an electoral official at a polling booth in Lagos, where voting had begun on time, was optimistic that the vote is better organised this week.
"I believe that today will be different," Fatai Awofolaju said.
"[The electoral commission] is ready."
The Independent National Electoral Commission was given a $570m budget last August just for overhauling voter lists and buying additional ballot boxes, leading some Nigerians to question whether they were getting value for money.
There are 73 million registered voters out of a population of 158 million and the budget means each of the 36 states would receive at least $15m.
The run-up to the polls has been marred by isolated bomb attacks on campaign rallies, violence blamed on a radical sect in the remote northeast and sectarian clashes in the centre of a nation roughly split between a Muslim north and Christian south.
Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 85 people have been killed in political violence linked to party primaries and election campaigns since the start of November.
"Millions of voters may be disenfranchised by being too scared to go out to cast their votes," Kunle Amuwo, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, wrote recently.
The leading contenders in the presidential vote include Jonathan, who comes from the south and became president after the death of Umaru Yaradua last May.
Muhammadu Buhari, his main challenger and former president running on the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) platform, has major support in the country's mostly Muslim north.
Other candidates vying for the presidency include former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu, whose Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) party has a strong following in parts of the southwest, and Ibrahim Shekarau, governor of the northern state of Kano.
The PDP controls a comfortable majority in the parliament, but some analysts say the poll could significantly loosen its grip on the legislature.
The party has won every election since military rule ended in 1999. The previous two elections, held in 2003 and 2007, were marred by fraud and irregularities.
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