Nigeria votes for a new president after delay

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ABUJA, Feb 23, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Nigerians vote for a new president on
Saturday after a week-long delay that has raised political tempers, sparked
conspiracy claims and stoked fears of violence.

Some 120,000 polling stations were due to open at 0700 GMT, from megacity
Lagos and the oil hub Port Harcourt in the south, to ancient Kano in the
north and the country’s rural heartlands.

Results are expected from early next week, with the winner gaining control
of Africa’s most populous nation and leading oil producer for four years.

In a crowded field of 73 presidential hopefuls, the two frontrunners —
incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, 76, and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 72
— are expected to vote in their home towns.

Electors are also choosing 360 members of the House of Representatives and
109 senators from a choice of 6,500 candidates.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last Saturday
announced a one-week delay to the election, just hours before it was due to
get under way.

That angered voters who had already travelled to their home towns and
villages to participate, and saw the main parties accuse the other of
conspiring with INEC to rig the result.

Neither has produced evidence and the elections watchdog has worked round
the clock to overcome difficulties in delivering materials, which it had
blamed for the postponement.

INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu has given an indication of the scale of the
task, announcing that more than 825,000 temporary staff had been drafted in
to help conduct the vote.

More than 80,000 vehicles and nearly 1,000 boats have been hired to
transport ballot papers, results and other materials to and from polling
units.

“I want to reassure you that elections will be held on Saturday,” he said
on Thursday. “There won’t be another postponement.”

– Security fears –

The logistical fine-tuning, however, has been overshadowed by comments from
Buhari that he had ordered security forces to be “ruthless” with vote-riggers
and ballot-box snatchers.

Critics said his warning was a “licence to kill” to the police and the
military, while Abubakar said his comments were not fitting for an elected
head of state.

Buhari has since sought to reassure voters not to be afraid, promising an
“atmosphere of openness and peace, devoid of fear from threat or
intimidation”.

Analysts SBM Intelligence say 233 people were killed in 67 incidents of
election-related violence from last October to Friday — an average of two
people per day.

The election campaign has come against a backdrop of wider violence from
Boko Haram Islamists and criminal gangs in the north that have killed more
than 200 people this month alone.

That could affect participation in some affected areas and combine with
voter apathy from last weekend’s postponement to affect turnout, according to
analysts.

Just over 84 million people were registered to vote but only 72.7 million
(86 percent) of those will be allowed to vote, as they have picked up their
voter identity cards.

– Task ahead –

In 2015, former military ruler Buhari became the first opposition candidate
in Nigerian history to defeat a sitting president, beating Goodluck Jonathan
by 2.5 million votes.

Buhari has again vowed to be tough on insecurity and corruption, and wants
to complete much-needed road and rail infrastructure projects, as well as
social mobility schemes.

Abubakar is a pro-business free marketeer whose main pledges have been to
privatise giant state-run companies and float the embattled naira currency.

Nigerian elections have previously been characterised by voting along
ethnic and religious lines.

But with Buhari and Abubakar both northern Muslims, that could split the
northern vote, making southern states a key battleground.

Opponents have accused Buhari of trying to manipulate the judiciary that
would rule on any dispute about the results, after he suspended the country’s
chief justice this month.

Nigeria’s Business Day newspaper on Friday said whoever wins has to repair
a “broken economy” limping back from recession, and hit by high unemployment,
inflation and weak growth.

Some 87 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty, with the gulf between
haves and have-nots widening.

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