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Saturday, February 27, 1999 Published at 21:11 GMT

World: Africa

Nigeria breaks with military past

Queues formed as soon as polling stations opened

Click here to listen to the BBC World Service Focus on Africa programme on the elections
Millions of Nigerians have voted in a presidential election set to put an end to more than 15 years of military rule.

Nigeria elections
Turnout is generally reported to have been higher than in last weekend's parliamentary elections, with queues forming at polling stations soon after they opened. International observers described the poll as orderly.

But there was less enthusiasm in parts of the Niger delta and reports in some areas of attempts at vote-rigging.

The BBC's Jeremy Vine in Abeokuta: "Voters waited patiently"
Nigerians chose between former military ruler General Olusegun Obasanjo, who relinquished power for the last elected president in 1979, and former finance minister Olu Falae.

General Obasanjo's supporters say that as a military man, he may be able to stop the soldiers seizing power again in the future. But his critics say he could become a military leader in civilian disguise.

Vote counting started as soon as the polls closed at 1330 GMT. First results are expected by Sunday.

No vote for Abubakar

In a bizarre incident, military leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar missed his opportunity to vote by five minutes.

Focus on Africa: Correspondents at polling stations across Nigeria
General Abubakar arrived at his local polling station shortly after voter registration had closed at 1000 GMTto be told that he could not cast his ballot. A BBC correspondent says the general's late arrival may have been deliberate so that he was not seen supporting one particular party.

[ image:  ]
However, the incident did not stop the general, who has promised to hand over power to the winner on 29 May, from expressing his satisfaction with the election process.

"With what I have seen, I am very happy with the turnout," he said.

The elections are being closely monitored by foreign observers

Former US President Jimmy Carter, co-leader of the American monitoring team, said: "The turnout has been very impressive and orderly. The officials all in their posts. All voting materials in place at the right time."

The BBC's Mark Doyle: "Voters were taking their civic duty very seriously"
The BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle says there is great enthusiasm for the idea of civilian rule - but few people expect their lives to change significantly.

Corruption and low prices for oil have bankrupted the economy and Nigerians struggle on average annual income of $300.

Hopes of smooth transition

Both presidential candidates voted in their home towns, expressing hope that the election would bury military rule.

[ image:  ]
Front-runner General Obasanjo queued at a polling station near his home in the city of Abeokuta.

"We are hopeful the transition to democracy will be smooth and with the rest of the world watching Nigeria will once again regain its former glory," General Obasanjo said after voting in the south-western city of Abeokuta.

His rival Mr Falae voted in his hometown Akure.

"If the election today is free and fair and peaceful and General Obasanjo wins in those circumstances, I will be the first person to congratulate him," Mr Falae said.

Both contestants are Christians and ethnic Yorubas from the south-west, and the outcome will mean a shift of power from the largely Muslim and Hausa-speaking north.

The presidential poll has been the fourth and last vote in the run-up to Nigeria's handover to democratic government.

The race for the presidency has captured far more public attention than the earlier polls, which have elected local and state governments, and parliamentary deputies

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