ABUJA/kano - Nigeria’s electoral commission said on Saturday it would extend voting into an extra day in polling stations that had technical issues with biometric card-reading machines. ‘In polling units where accreditation was suspended to the following day, in accordance with the existing guidelines, arrangements will be made for voters to vote tomorrow,’ commissioner Chris Yimoga told journalists in Abuja. Boko Haram insurgents launched two deadly attacks on voters in northeast Nigeria on Saturday, police and a security source said, killing six people in an election in which insecurity is a major issue. One attack was in Ngalda, Yobe state, state police commissioner Danladi Marcus told Reuters by telephone. The other was in an ethnic Fulani village called Woru in Gombe state, a security source said. In both attacks gunmen opened fire on voters as they trekked to their polling stations, killing three in each. An explosion struck a polling station at a primary school in the eastern Nigerian city of Awka on Saturday morning but claimed no casualties, police said.

‘No lives were lost and none injured. The police bomb squad has moved in,’ Uche Eze, police spokesman for Anambra state, of which Awka is the capital, said. Anambra has often been scene of political thuggery around election time. 

In the meanwhile, militant group Boko Haram, whose insurgency had forced a six-week delay in voting, appeared to carry through on their warning to disrupt the process by attacking two polling stations in the northeastern state of Gombe, leaving at least two dead.

‘We could hear the gunmen shouting, ‘Didn’t we warn you about staying away from (the) election?’‘ one official said after the shootings in Birin Bolawa and Birin Fulani. Polling stations had earlier opened at 0700 GMT across the country for what is the closest election since the coup-plagued country’s independence from Britain in 1960. In many areas, the late arrival of officials and materials delayed the accreditation process in the morning ahead of the start of voting proper from 1230 GMT.

New handheld technology to read biometric voter identity cards is being used for the first time, which the country’s electoral commission hopes will cut voter fraud that has blighted previous elections. An apparent card reader malfunction forced President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife Patience to leave their poll station while the problem was resolved after hanging around in the scorching heat in his hometown of Otuoke.

‘Maybe it’s me?’ Jonathan joked to reporters in the southern state of Bayelsa but pleaded for calm as reports filtered in of similar delays around the country, including the capital Abuja. ‘I plead with all Nigerians to be patient, no matter the pains we take,’ he added. The 57-year-old, in his trademark fedora hat and black suit, later returned and was accredited using the old manual system.

Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has voiced concerns at the technology, calling it untested, while the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) has backed its use. APC candidate Muhammadu Buhari, in a white robe topped with a traditional Muslim cap, was accredited without a hitch using the card reader in his hometown of Daura, in northern Katsina state.

Moreover, suspected Boko Haram gunmen beheaded 23 people and set fire to homes in Buratai, northeast Nigeria, on the eve of Saturday’s general elections, a federal lawmaker representing the area told AFP.

‘There was an attack on Buratai late Friday by gunmen suspected to be insurgents....They beheaded 23 people and set homes on fire,’ said Mohammed Adamu, who represents the town some 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Borno’s capital Maiduguri. ‘At least half the village has been burnt,’ he added.

A nurse at the nearest major hospital, in Biu, said the 32 injured who were receiving care also reported that many were decapitated during the attack. Further details of the violence were not immediately available, but the attack is consistent with Boko Haram’s past strikes in the area in the south of the state, where defenceless civilians have been repeatedly targeted. It was not clear if the raid late Friday was linked to Saturday’s polls, but Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had vowed to disrupt the vote. Elsewhere in Nigeria’s restive northeast, suspected Islamist militants killed at least seven people in separate attacks in the Gombe state. Witnesses reported that the assailants in Gombe made clear their intention was to disrupt the polls.

In the meanwhile, fourteen candidates are contesting the presidential poll, while 2,537 hopefuls from 28 parties are vying for 469 seats in the National Assembly at the same time. 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 inability to tackle Boko Haram - until recently - has dominated his tenure and while Nigeria became Africa’s largest economy on his watch, global oil shocks have hit the country hard. Even Jonathan has admitted that the election is close. ‘I cannot recall an election more important than this in the history of our nation,’ he said on Thursday. There was clear evidence of traditional support along regional lines, with Buhari hailing from the mainly Muslim north and Jonathan a son of the largely Christian south. But political analysts say such backing is far from guaranteed at the election, of which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the international community had ‘high expectations’.

Voters were however annoyed at delays in authenticating fingerprints and other data, which the electoral commission said should take only 10 seconds under the new system. ‘I was in the queue for almost two hours, and when it was my turn the officials spent close to 20 minutes before they could be through with me,’ said Isu Sylvanus, a 38-year-old farmer, in Otuoke. ‘They should discard the card reader for this election because we are yet to master how to use it.’

Security was tight nationwide, with fears running high of Boko Haram attacks on polling stations and a repeat of poll-related violence that saw some 1,000 people killed in 2011. Streets were largely devoid of traffic as an eight-hour ban on vehicle movements began. Shops and businesses were shuttered while military helicopters were seen overhead in Abuja. In the southeastern city of Enugu, a vehicle loaded with suspected homemade bombs exploded outside a polling station at a primary school but no one was killed or injured, police said. The attack in Gombe, which has been repeatedly targeted by the militants, also saw election materials burned. In the northeast, blighted by six years of Boko Haram violence that has left more than 13,000 people dead and 1.5 million homeless, voting was taking place in and around camps for the displaced.

Civilian vigilantes swept voters with hand-held metal detectors in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, as a precaution after a string of suicide attacks on ‘soft’ targets in recent weeks.

 Many of the thousands of voters were women widowed by the violence or separated from their husbands. ‘I am ready to cast my vote at whatever cost,’ said Tandalami Balami, who fled the recently liberated town of Gwoza to a camp in Maiduguri.