Voters in Nigeria voted on Saturday to elect a new president as Africa’s most populous country grapples with a banknote shortage, prompting some observers to fear a lower turnout than expected.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are being held amid fears of violence from Islamist militants in the north to separatists in the south, although officials said voting would not be postponed as in the last two presidential elections.

Voting started late in some states on Saturday where polling officers did not reach polling stations on time. Internet connectivity issues at a polling station in the Northeast made it impossible for election officials to verify a voter’s identity.

Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who is stepping down after two four-year terms, called for calm after the vote was cast during a visit to northwestern Katsina state. He also warned against intimidation of voters.

In a field of 18 presidential candidates, three front-runners have emerged in recent weeks to replace Buhari: the ruling party’s candidate, the main opposition party’s candidate, and a third-party candidate who polled 33% of young voters.

But whether those supporters will show up in force at polling stations is unclear as Nigerians have waited hours in queues at banks across the country this week in search of money.

Kingsley Emmanuel, 34, a civil engineer, said the cash scarcity was a real obstacle for many Nigerians.

“They don’t have the cash to pay for a commercial vehicle and most of them don’t accept (money) transfer,” he said from a polling station in the city of Yola in Yola city in Adamawa state. “So it is very difficult for them to access their polling unit.”

The vote is being carefully watched as Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and one of the continent’s top oil producers. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that Nigeria will tie with the United States as the third most populous nation in the world after India and China.

It is also home to one of the largest youth populations in the world: About 64 million of its 210 million people are between the ages of 18 and 35, with a median age of only 18.

Favour Ben, 29, who owns a food business in the capital, Abuja, said she was backing third-party candidate Peter Obi.

“Obi knows what Nigerians need,” she said. “He knows what is disturbing us and I believe he knows how to tackle it.”

Buhari’s tenure was marked by concerns about his ailing health and frequent trips abroad for medical treatment. Two of the top candidates are in their 70s and both have been in Nigerian politics since 1999.

By contrast, at 61, Obi of the Labour party is the youngest of the front-runners and had surged in the polls in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s vote.

Nevertheless, Bola Tinubu has strong support from the ruling All Progressives Congress party, which is an important supporter of the president. And Atiku Abubakar has been named to be one of the richest businessmen in Nigeria, who also served as the vice-president and presidential hopeful in 2019 for his People’s Democratic Party.

Nigeria’s election results will be transmitted electronically to the headquarters in Abuja for the first time this year, a move officials say will reduce voter fraud. Officials also say they will ban mobile phones inside polling stations to prevent vote-buying: photographs of votes are usually sent as proof that people have received money to elect a certain candidate.

The full impact of Nigeria’s currency crisis on Saturday’s election was not immediately clear, although officials said they were able to get the government the money needed to conduct the vote. In Lagos, a female policewoman queuing at a bank to withdraw cash told The Associated Press on Thursday that she could not go to where she was deployed for election duty because she had not received the cash.

New bills have been slow to circulate since authorities in November announced a decision to redesign Nigeria’s currency, the naira. At the same time, the old banknotes were stopped being accepted, creating a shortage in a country where many people use cash for daily transactions.

By Archana

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