* Parliamentary election first of three votes
* Signs of delay raise early questions over organisation
* Campaigning in some areas marred by violence
(Updates with Nigerians assemble for vote)
By Nick Tattersall
LAGOS, April 2 Nigerians headed to polling
stations on Saturday for parliamentary elections, the first in a
series of ballots that will test whether Africa's most populous
nation can break with a history of vote fraud and violence.
Ballot stuffing, intimidation and thuggery were so
widespread in the last nationwide elections in 2007 that foreign
observers questioned whether they reflected the will of the
people, saying they fell far below international standards.
The electoral commission hopes a new voters' register,
tighter polling procedures and better security will help stamp
out fraud, but there has already been violence in several
regions during campaigning.
Voters have to assemble at polling stations from 8 a.m.
(0700 GMT) and register there before voting starts at 12.30 p.m.
The aim is to prevent multiple voting. [ID:nLDE72U1JJ]
"I am anxiously waiting to cast my vote," said schoolteacher
Balami Dalta, who reached the polling station before election
officials in the village of Shaffa in the dusty northern Borno
State. "I hope it will influence the outcome."
But the late arrival of ballot papers there and in some
other centres raised early questions over organisation.
In the plush Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos, Nigeria's biggest
city and commercial hub, policemen and polling officials sat at
wooden benches under mango trees, eating breakfast as they
waited for voters to arrive.
Land borders were closed ahead of Saturday's vote and only
election officials, security forces and emergency staff were
allowed to travel on the roads during voting hours.
Gunmen threw explosives into a police station in the central
city of Bauchi late on Friday in an apparent attempt to cause
panic, although many officers had already left for the day and
there was no immediate confirmation of casualties.
Police in Delta state in the oil-producing Niger Delta,
where there has been political violence in the past, said they
had arrested two men in a minibus carrying AK-47 rifles,
ammunition and a rocket launcher days ahead of the vote.
Graphic on elections: link.reuters.com/xet78r
For more stories, background and analysis: [nLDE68H051]
The build-up to the polls has risked exposing ethnic and
religious fault lines in the country of 150 million people,
roughly split between a Muslim north and Christian south but
with sizeable minorities living in both regions.
There have been isolated bomb attacks on campaign rallies,
riots on the edge of the oil-producing Niger Delta, a series of
killings in the northeast blamed on a radical Islamist sect, and
sectarian clashes in central Nigeria in recent weeks.
But in other areas, observers have seen less evidence of
politicians arming gangs to intimidate and harass voters than in
the run-up to the last polls in 2007.
Saturday's vote will be a litmus test for the presidential
election a week later and the state governorship polls in two
weeks' time, both of them ballots in which the stakes for the
country as a whole are considerably higher.
Parliamentary elections are also fiercely contested by
candidates eager for the spoils of the job -- a pay package
whose allowances alone top $1 million a year. [ID:nLDE7300WJ]
Violence could reduce the turnout in the later polls.
President Goodluck Jonathan is seen as the front-runner in
the presidential race on April 9, but the ruling People's
Democratic Party (PDP) is expected to see its parliamentary
The PDP holds more than three-quarters of the 360 seats in
the House of Representatives and of the 109 in the Senate.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he was encouraged by
electoral reforms and successful elections would allow Nigeria
"to continue to play its leading role in the promotion of
regional peace, security and economic integration."
The National Emergency Management Agency has cancelled leave
for its staff and identified a third of the country's 36 states
as potential flashpoints during the elections.
Amnesty International said at least 20 people had been
killed in political attacks and clashes in the past two weeks,
and scores of cars and buildings had been burned.
(For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the
top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ )
(Additional reporting by Abdulwahab Muhammed in Bauchi, Austin
Ekeinde in Port Harcourt, Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by
Nick Tattersall; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)