Lagos – US, European and other governments on Thursday urged Nigeria to ensure a peaceful presidential election this weekend as skirmishes broke out in a key city on the last day of campaigning.
More than 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote on Saturday in what has developed into a tense, competitive race among three presidential frontrunners for the first time since military rule ended in 1999.
After two terms under President Muhammadu Buhari, who is stepping down, Africa’s most populous nation is grappling with widespread insecurity from various armed groups, high inflation and growing poverty.
Thursday was the final day of campaigning for the presidential, senate and parliamentary elections.
“It is vital for Nigeria’s stability and democratic consolidation that the process is conducted and concluded safely, fairly and credibly,” said a joint statement from the diplomatic missions of the United States, Britain, Australia, Japan, Canada and Norway.
A joint-statement from the Diplomatic Missions in Nigeria of the United States, Australia, Japan, Norway, Canada and the UK ahead of Nigeria’s General Elections on 25 February 2023. 🇺🇸🇦🇺🇯🇵🇳🇴🇨🇦🇬🇧#NigeriaDecides2023 pic.twitter.com/XDa0wXOTKk
— Sodiq (@sdknigeria) February 23, 2023
“We encourage all actors to intervene proactively to calm any tensions and avoid any violence.”
Nigeria’s elections have been marked by violence, ethnic tensions, vote-buying and clashes between supporters of rival parties.
Fighting broke out in the northwestern city of Kano on Thursday when mobs attacked supporters of Rabiu Kwankwaso, a former Kano governor and a presidential candidate for the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
Cars of NNPP supporters were burned and several were injured when they were attacked by a mob wielding machetes and clubs, NNPP members said.
Kano State, with the second-largest number of registered voters after Lagos at nearly 6 million, is a highly contested region.
Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the violence.
‘Safe, united and peaceful’
On Wednesday, a senatorial candidate for the Labour Party and one of his team were killed when gunmen attacked and burned his vehicle in southeast Enugu State, police said.
The main four candidates in the presidential race signed a peace accord on Wednesday, in a bid to ensure a free and peaceful election.
“Let me remind all Nigerians not for the first time that this is the only country we have, and we must do everything to keep it safe, united and peaceful,” Buhari said at the event.
Polling stations open at 07:30 GMT on Saturday and close at 13:30 GMT. Election officials are expected to start releasing results from Sunday.
To win the presidency, a candidate must secure the most votes but also win 25 percent in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states. If no candidate wins, a run-off will take place between the two frontrunners.
The rules reflect governing a country almost equally split between the mostly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south and with three main ethnic groups: Yoruba in southwest, Hausa in the north and Igbo in the southeast.
Nigeria’s security challenges are vast. An overstretched army is still fighting a 14-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast and trying to contain bandits who raid villages and carry out mass abductions for ransom in the northwest.
Offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission have been attacked, in violence often blamed on separatists in the southeast.
Three frontrunners are battling to succeed Buhari, who was first elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2019 mainly on promises he would fight insecurity and corruption.
Surveys by pan-African group Afrobarometer show nine out of 10 Nigerians believe their country is heading in the wrong direction, with security and the economy being the main concerns.
On Saturday, Bola Tinubu, 70, candidate for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Lagos governor, faces old rival and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 76, of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Both have dismissed corruption accusations and are long-time fixtures of Nigeria’s politics.
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But for the first time a surprise third candidate, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, has emerged to challenge the dominance of the PDP and APC with a message to young voters he will bring change.
Critics question whether Obi has the party structure or the broad national appeal to win the presidency.
Days before the election, a national shortage of cash has also angered Nigerians, as they struggle to buy food at markets and pay for transport to work. Many people in the informal economy rely heavily on cash.
The central bank began to exchange old naira currency bills for new redesigned ones, in what officials said was a move to curb corruption and inflation.
But a scarcity of new notes has caused huge lines at banks, violent protests in several cities and triggered tensions in the APC over how the measure may hurt its candidate at the ballot box.
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