Millions of Nigerians brave deadly Boko Haram raids at polling stations.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for democracy in Africa yesterday as Nigerians resolutely cast their votes amid shootings by Islamist militants and technical glitches.

The long-awaited election in the continent's biggest democracy, with 60 million potential voters, did not descend into the chaos or violence that doomsayers had predicted, but it was hardly plain sailing. From the moment that President Goodluck Jonathan was rejected by a malfunctioning voter registration machine there were glitches until beleaguered officials were forced to announce polling would spill over into a second day.

Jonathan, 57, faces an unprecedented challenge from 72-year-old Muhammadu Buhari in the most fiercely contested election in Nigeria's history. The President has been criticised for failing to get to grips with security or the economy, while Buhari once ruled as a military dictator, prompting analysts to say voters must choose between one leader who is too weak and another who is too strong.

In the embattled northeast, the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram carried out its threat to disrupt polling day. Forty one people were killed, including an opposition politician, in raids on polling stations.

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"We could hear the gunmen shouting, 'Didn't we warn you about staying away from [the] election?'" one official said after three died in Gombe state. "They set fire to all the election materials we abandoned as we escaped."

Boko Haram has recently suffered setbacks against the Nigerian military and regional allies. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, warned in a video message last month: "This election will not be held even if we are dead. Even if we are not alive, Allah will not allow you to do it."

But many voters in Boko Haram's heartland defied the threat. Volunteers swept voters with hand-held metal detectors in Maiduguri as a precaution after recent suicide attacks. Observer