, ABUJA, Mar 28- Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, votes for a new president on Saturday, in the most closely fought election since independence, framed by Boko Haram violence, economic woes and endemic corruption.
From megacity Lagos in the Christian south to cities across the Muslim north, polling stations were due to open at 0700 GMT, with 68.8 million of Nigeria’s 173 million people registered to vote.
President Goodluck Jonathan arrived by helicopter in his home town of Utuoke in southern Bayelsa state on Friday night, hoping for a second term of office despite stinging criticism of his record.
His main opponent, the self-styled scourge of government graft Muhammadu Buhari, was in Daura, northern Katsina state, eyeing a democratic return to power after a spell as military ruler in the 1980s.
In Daura, wicker brooms — symbol of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) — had been hung in the streets; in Utuoke, posters of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) umbrella and Jonathan.
Observers, from the European Union and United Nations to the African Union and United States, were in place — a sign of international interest but also to ensure a free, fair and transparent contest.
Results from both the presidential and parliamentary vote being held at the same time are expected within 48 hours of polls closing, according to the electoral commission.
– Democracy and security –
Previous polls have been blighted by rigging but there are hopes that the first ever use of handheld technology to read biometric voter identity cards will cut fraud.
Jonathan’s PDP has been in power since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999 but the result is far from clear this time, with the opposition in its strongest position ever.
The president’s until recent inability to tackle Boko Haram has dominated his tenure and although Nigeria became Africa’s largest economy on his watch, global oil shocks have hit the country hard.
“I cannot recall an election more important than this in the history of our nation,” the president said on Thursday.