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Nigeria’s presidential election: The main candidates

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Nigeria’s presidential election on Saturday may feature more than 70 candidates but it is ultimately expected to be a head-to-head between just two men.

– Muhammadu Buhari (All Progressives Congress) –

Buhari, Atiku
President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar

Buhari’s landmark 2015 election victory over Goodluck Jonathan was the first time in Nigerian history that an opposition candidate defeated a sitting president.

But the euphoria, goodwill — and expectations — he enjoyed then inevitably dwindled in the transition from opposition to government.

Four years ago, Buhari worked to persuade voters they had nothing to fear from his former life as a no-nonsense army general who headed a military government in the 1980s.

The self-styled “converted democrat” used that past to good effect, shaking up the military response to Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency and starting an anti-corruption drive.

The 76-year-old has positioned himself as a proponent of “big government”, promising to create 10 million jobs, build much-needed roads, rail and other transport infrastructure.

Overall, he is pushing for another four years to finish what he started.

But his pledges on security have come under scrutiny, with an increase in Boko Haram attacks in the northeast setting back initial gains, and new security concerns around the country.

High levels of inflation, the cost of living and the effects of recession caused by the slump in global oil prices have led to criticisms about his stewardship of the economy.

Buhari has also faced charges of authoritarianism, in particular using the state security apparatus to target political opponents accused of graft and rejection of legal due process.

On January 25, he suspended the country’s chief justice after he was charged with non-disclosure of assets, leading to charges of executive meddling in the judiciary.

Many critics called that an “attempted coup against the judiciary” — emotive words in a country which has seen six successful military coups since independence in 1960.

But uppermost in many people’s minds has been Buhari’s ability to serve another term — and keep his grip on power — after he spent nearly six months undergoing medical treatment abroad.

Buhari, from Daura, in the northern state of Katsina, divorced his first wife, Safinatu, with whom he had five children.

Aisha, whom he married in 1989, is his second wife. They also have five children.

– Atiku Abubakar (Peoples Democratic Party) –

Atiku Abubakar is well-known to Nigerian voters, having been vice president under Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007, and is a serial presidential contender.

The 72-year-old businessman has outlined a number of free market reforms and is seen by some as the candidate most likely to turn around Nigeria’s economic fortunes.

His pledges include privatising the leviathan state-run oil firm, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, floating the naira national currency and abolishing multiple exchange rates.

Abubakar has deliberately courted younger voters online, revealing personal details such as his love of Arsenal football club, the music of Fela Kuti and Spiderman.

He has repeatedly characterised Buhari as old, infirm and out of touch and championed education initiatives, including his creation of an elite university in his home state.

But he has long been dogged by allegations of corruption dating back to his time as head of the customs service and time as Obasanjo’s deputy.

Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) has highlighted allegations of electoral malpractices under the Obasanjo/Abubakar regime, and failed privatisation schemes.

His campaign team sought to debunk the widespread belief that he could not travel to the United States for fear of arrest because of his alleged links to corruption claims.

But his trip to Washington in January only raised more questions, after it emerged he had engaged a lobbyist linked to US President Donald Trump and stayed at a Trump hotel.

Those questions are unlikely to go away should he win.

Abubakar, from Adamawa in northeast Nigeria, has three wives, more than 20 children and dozens more grandchildren.

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Nigeria makes a second attempt to hold presidential and parliamentary elections this weekend, after a last-gasp postponement that angered voters and stoked the political temperature.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will on Saturday try again to stage Africa’s biggest vote, at which President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second, four-year term.

Challenging him in what is expected to be a close race is Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president.

INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu has faced calls to resign since he announced the one-week delay just hours before polling was due to begin last Saturday.

But he has since tried to calm nerves, insisting the body remains “on course” to overcome the logistical problems that hampered delivery of election materials.

“I want to reassure you that elections will hold on Saturday,” he told a news conference in Abuja on Thursday. “There won’t be another postponement.”

– Suspicions –

All eyes will be on the nearly 120,000 polling stations when they open at 0700 GMT to see if the correct ballot boxes, papers and results sheets have been delivered — and on time.

IT specialists have worked round-the-clock to reconfigure some 180,000 machines that are needed to check biometric identity cards, and allow people to vote.

Just over 84 million voters have been registered this year, although INEC said 11.2 million (13.7 percent) had failed to pick up their permanent voters’ cards (PVCs).

There are more people with cards than at the last election. However, the uncollected cards will likely add to fears about a lower turn-out and do little to alleviate persistent fears of fraud.

Many Nigerians travel from commercial centres such as Lagos to their home towns and villages. Fewer people are expected to be able to afford to do so again — or want to.

At the last elections in 2015, there were 67.4 million registered voters. Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), won 15.4 million of the 28.5 million valid votes cast.

Repeated delays in the distribution and collection of identity cards this time have led to suspicions of skullduggery and conspiracy between the parties and INEC.

Both the APC and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been accused of trying to buy the cards, with a view to rig the result.

At governorship elections in southwest Nigeria last year, it was claimed the APC and PDP were offering 3,000 to 5,000 naira ($8-13, 7-12 euros) per card.

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Thousands of PVCs and card readers have been destroyed in three suspicious fires at separate INEC offices in central and southeast Nigeria.

Yakubu has said there is “no evidence that the commission has been sabotaged”, despite a whirlwind of accusations that INEC has been compromised that could hit the vote’s credibility.

– Security fears –

At 76 and 72, Buhari and Abubakar are the oldest of 73 presidential candidates and are standing in what could be the last elections of their long political careers.

Both have been fixtures on Nigeria’s political landscape for decades, through the turbulent decades of military rule to the return to civilian rule in 1999.

Just over half of all registered voters are aged 18-35, reflecting the country’s increasingly young population. No date has been given for the results, but an announcement is expected from early next week.

Buhari, a former military ruler, has again positioned himself as the candidate to tackle multiple security challenges, including Boko Haram Islamists, and endemic corruption.

He also wants another four years to complete much-needed road and rail infrastructure projects and expand social mobility schemes, including micro-finance for the poorest.

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

The past has come back to haunt both candidates, with Abubakar dogged by his alleged links to corruption cases in the United States and Buhari claims of creeping authoritarianism.

Earlier this month he suspended Nigeria’s chief justice after he was charged with corruption.

But with the Supreme Court he presides over likely to rule on any election petition, many suspected a political motive.

Uppermost in many voters’ minds on Saturday will be on safety, with tensions running high that increases the chance of violence, particularly in swing states.

Buhari this week said he had ordered the police and the military to be “ruthless” with vote-riggers and ballot-snatchers.

The army, which is not responsible for election security, has backed Buhari but Abubakar has said “the era of dictatorship and military rule.”

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