Nigeria’s big elections day beckons

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Last-minute preparations continue in Nigeria ahead of Saturday’s Presidential elections. It is a day ahead of the election and for many Nigerians the priority is that they pass off peacefully and fairly.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured the over 84 million registered voters of a better conduct of elections this time.

Previous elections have been marred by electoral malpractices and violence during and after the exercise.

Movement of sensitive electoral materials has commenced from state headquarters to the 774 local government areas and the over 120 000 polling units in the country.

Last week, three INEC offices in the South East states of Anambra and Abia, as well as North Central Plateau states, containing voting materials caught fire. But the commission says it has replaced the destroyed items to ensure elections go ahead in the affected areas.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking a second term in office under the ruling All Progressives Congress, is challenged by over 70 other aspirants including his main opponent and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party.

The campaigns are now officially over and the two major candidates will be hoping they have done enough during several months of rallies across the 36 states and federal capital up until Thursday, 14 February.

Nigeria continues to battle high levels of poverty, insecurity and corruption and these issues are expected to influence the choices of Nigerians as they head to the polls to cast their ballots on Saturday.  Author- Phil Ihaza

Buhari, the 76-year-old leader of Africa’s most populous nation, was elected in 2015 on a wave of hope he could defeat Boko Haram, tackle rampant corruption and boost the economy.

But he faces a stiff challenge from former vice-president Abubakar, 72, amid fears about widening insecurity, claims of creeping authoritarianism and economic incompetence.

Analysts were split over who would win Saturday’s ballot, which is the sixth in the 20 years since Nigeria returned to democracy after decades of miliary rule.

“It’s likely to be very, very tight,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior Nigeria researcher at the International Crisis Group think-tank.

A record number of 73 candidates are on the ballot but Buhari, from the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are considered the main contenders.

Over 84 million people are registered to vote — up 18 percent on 2015 and another record, which has been taken as a sign of Nigeria’s developing democracy.

Also up for grabs are 360 seats in the lower House of Representatives and 109 in the Senate.

Nearly 120,000 polling units are set to open at 0700 GMT and close at 1600 GMT.

No date has been given for the results, but an announcement is expected from early next week. -Additional reporting by AFP