Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-NIGERIA: Praying for a Peaceful Poll

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Apr 11 2003 (IPS) - Nigerians have turned to God to avert violence that may erupt during the country’s general elections, which kick off Saturday.

Some 64 million people are eligible to vote in Saturday’s legislative poll. More than 30 political parties are vying for seats in the lower and upper houses of assembly. Presidential and state polls are scheduled for Apr 19.

For some weeks now, Christians have been holding night vigils and devoting time in their churches for special prayers for peaceful and rancour-free general elections, while Muslims on Friday converged on the Central Mosque in Lagos to pray for a peaceful poll.

On Thursday, members of the Nusurulai Muslim Society of Nigeria, defying the hot afternoon weather of Lagos, converged on the Ikeja Praying ground to offer prayers for peace during and after the elections.

Addressing the gathering, former Attorney General of Nigeria, Bola Ajibola, said: ”There is nothing else that we can do to prevent any bloodshed or disruption of election other than praying to God to help us ward off the doom that will follow the election”.

The government has assured that adequate security would be provided to forestall any breakdown of law and order during the polls. Police special units have been deployed across the country.

The 200,000-strong Police force will be complemented by other security agencies, including the Customs and Immigration organs as well as the Civil Defence Corps.

The Nigerian Immigration Service says it has mapped out strategies to prevent foreigners from voting in the elections.

Immigration chief, Uzuamaka Nwinzu, has ordered the agency to tighten security at all ports of entry and exit at the borders. She says only officers of proven integrity have been deployed for this assignment. Voters will choose 109 legislators for the Senate and 360 for the House of Representatives. Incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo is facing 19 challengers in his bid for re-election. His strongest opponent is former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

Throughout the exercise, observers, such as the Commonwealth, will keep an eye on the polls. ”The Commonwealth Observer Group is in Nigeria to give support to the consolidation of the democratisation process in the country. Because of the unique position Nigeria occupies in Africa and the Commonwealth, it is imperative that the country be given all the necessary support,” says Salim Ahmed Salim, leader of the14-member team.

”The goal of the mission is to make an honest, impartial and independent assessment of the entire election process as part of the Commonwealth’s effort to promote and strengthen democracy in member countries,” he says. ”The mission will also determine whether the conditions exist for a free expression of will by the electors and if the results reflect the wishes of the people.”

The group, which comprise former British colonies, will submit its report to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don Mckinon, after the elections.

On Friday, voters complained that they had not yet been issued with the new voters’ cards.

While the exercise started in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, and other parts of the country, as scheduled on Tuesday, it only began in Lagos on Thursday afternoon.

”I have been to the polling centre where I registered as a voter but the electoral officials, who ought to issue me the cards, were nowhere to be found,” says a man who gave his name only as Emmanuel.

An electoral official, who declined to be named, told IPS: ”All eligible voters in the state will cast their votes on Saturday and in subsequent elections even if they do not have the voters’ cards. We are definitely coming up with a solution. Everyone will vote”.

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