Nigeria poised for key poll


Summary

This would be the first time in the country’s post-colonial history that such a transition has been allowed to occur.

But the election is being held in an atmosphere of widespread insecurity and general disorganisation.

Just hours ahead of the election, violence flared again in the south of the world’s sixth biggest oil exporter.

Gunfire broke out at a hotel in the Bayelsa state town of Yenagoa, where the ruling party’s vice presidential candidate was staying but he was not hurt in the incident, a diplomatic source said.

The latest unrest comes a week after state governorship elections triggered violence that left at least 21 people dead.

“I think there’ll be trouble this time round but maybe less than last weekend – the same sort of thing – stealing ballot boxes, ballot stuffing,” a security advisor told reporters.

Electoral commission chairman Maurice Iwu assured Nigerians that the presidential vote would be better handled than the April 14 election.

“We have learnt good lessons from Saturday’s poll. The election of 2007 will be concluded peacefully, freely and fairly,” Mr Iwu said.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former general, acknowledged that voting in the gubernatorial poll had been marred by fraud and called for a crackdown on any attempts at vote rigging.

The election contest will be between three northerners: Umaru Yar’Adua of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who defected from the PDP to run as candidate for the opposition Action Congress (AC), and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

Mr Yar’Adua was flown to Germany for emergency medical treatment in March, but health concerns aside, he is seen as holding the edge over his two main rivals.

Uncertainty over whether Mr Abubakar would be allowed to compete was lessened by an 11th-hour Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that he could stand despite attempts by the electoral commission to disqualify him over corruption allegations.

Even if fraud and violence are contained, logistical problems caused by last-minute political wrangling was expected to have an impact on Saturday’s vote.

Mr Iwu delayed the start of the vote by two hours because ballot papers printed in South Africa were late in arriving.

It was not clear by Friday evening whether distribution of the ballot papers had already started.

Mr Iwu downplayed the importance of the delay. He said that even in previous polls the commission had not send ballot papers out early to individual polling stations “because of the lack of confidence there is amongst us”.

While ordinary Nigerians hope Saturday’s election will help to bring an end to the corruption that permeates society, Western powers fear mainly for the stability of Africa’s largest democracy as a major oil source.

Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total all operate in the West African country and oil companies will be crossing their fingers that existing unrest is not aggravated by political tensions around the elections.

World oil prices rose slightly on Friday as traders fretted that continued violence in the run-up to Nigeria’s poll may disrupt supplies from Africa’s biggest crude-producing nation.


This would be the first time in the country’s post-colonial history that such a transition has been allowed to occur.

But the election is being held in an atmosphere of widespread insecurity and general disorganisation.

Just hours ahead of the election, violence flared again in the south of the world’s sixth biggest oil exporter.

Gunfire broke out at a hotel in the Bayelsa state town of Yenagoa, where the ruling party’s vice presidential candidate was staying but he was not hurt in the incident, a diplomatic source said.

The latest unrest comes a week after state governorship elections triggered violence that left at least 21 people dead.

“I think there’ll be trouble this time round but maybe less than last weekend – the same sort of thing – stealing ballot boxes, ballot stuffing,” a security advisor told reporters.

Electoral commission chairman Maurice Iwu assured Nigerians that the presidential vote would be better handled than the April 14 election.

“We have learnt good lessons from Saturday’s poll. The election of 2007 will be concluded peacefully, freely and fairly,” Mr Iwu said.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former general, acknowledged that voting in the gubernatorial poll had been marred by fraud and called for a crackdown on any attempts at vote rigging.

The election contest will be between three northerners: Umaru Yar’Adua of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who defected from the PDP to run as candidate for the opposition Action Congress (AC), and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

Mr Yar’Adua was flown to Germany for emergency medical treatment in March, but health concerns aside, he is seen as holding the edge over his two main rivals.

Uncertainty over whether Mr Abubakar would be allowed to compete was lessened by an 11th-hour Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that he could stand despite attempts by the electoral commission to disqualify him over corruption allegations.

Even if fraud and violence are contained, logistical problems caused by last-minute political wrangling was expected to have an impact on Saturday’s vote.

Mr Iwu delayed the start of the vote by two hours because ballot papers printed in South Africa were late in arriving.

It was not clear by Friday evening whether distribution of the ballot papers had already started.

Mr Iwu downplayed the importance of the delay. He said that even in previous polls the commission had not send ballot papers out early to individual polling stations “because of the lack of confidence there is amongst us”.

While ordinary Nigerians hope Saturday’s election will help to bring an end to the corruption that permeates society, Western powers fear mainly for the stability of Africa’s largest democracy as a major oil source.

Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total all operate in the West African country and oil companies will be crossing their fingers that existing unrest is not aggravated by political tensions around the elections.

World oil prices rose slightly on Friday as traders fretted that continued violence in the run-up to Nigeria’s poll may disrupt supplies from Africa’s biggest crude-producing nation.