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Crunch presidential vote looms for Nigeria

14 January 2015, 13:39

Lagos - Nigerians go to the polls in a month's time to elect a new president against a backdrop of a raging Boko Haram insurgency, economic troubles and persistent concerns over rampant corruption.

President Goodluck Jonathan is hoping to win a second, four-year term at the February 14 vote but is expected to be run close by former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

Some analysts believe a second round of voting may even be needed.

Insecurity is dominating the run-up to the poll, with no let-up in Boko Haram's bloody rampage in the troubled northeast.

Hundreds or more civilians were feared killed in what may prove the worst atrocity in the Islamists' six-year insurgency after they stormed Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, on January 3.

The violence has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the region, which is an opposition stronghold, while Boko Haram's control of territory makes it impossible to return.

The head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, said on Monday it will be "impossible" to hold the election in all areas of the three worst-affected states.

Arrangements were being made to allow the internally displaced to vote, he added, but political commentator Chris Ngwodo said the final result could be contested.

"It certainly does look like it's set for a legal challenge," he told AFP.

Nearly 12 months ago, Nigeria -- Africa's most populous nation with some 170 million people and it leading oil producer -- was crowned the continent's leading economy.

But the fall in the global price of crude -- the mainstay of Nigeria's economy -- has since slashed government revenue, forced the devaluation of the currency and a revision of the 2015 budget.

With the outlook bleak and longstanding concerns about the high cost of living and unemployment, the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) has been handed a trump card.

"It (the state of the economy) will have a dramatic impact," said economist Bismark Rewane, describing it as a potential "game changer".

Even the elite has been hit by the knock-on effects of the slump in oil prices to six-year lows below $50 a barrel.

but Rewane said that despite everything, Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may still be preferred.

"We haven't seen (an economic) programme from Buhari," he added.

Jonathan, Buhari and the parties have largely campaigned negatively, resorting to personal smears rather than closely argued points of policy.

For the PDP, Buhari, 72, a northern Muslim who was Nigeria's military ruler from December 1983 to August 1985, is a "dangerous" man of the past with outdated ideas and no national appeal.

He has also been portrayed as an Islamic extremist, a charge he denies, while the PDP claims he did not finish secondary education. If proved, he would be excluded from the race.

For the APC, 57-year-old Jonathan, a southern Christian, has failed to tackle corruption and impunity, while he has done little to prevent the loss of territory to Boko Haram.

Jonathan and the PDP are pleading for more time to finish their "transformation agenda", while Buhari and the APC believe they are better placed to end graft and the insurgency.

No independent polling is available to indicate voting intentions but the APC coalition is seen by some as having the upper hand.

It already controls the financial capital Lagos in the southwest, the southern oil city of Port Harcourt and the biggest northern city, Kano -- key urban centres seen as vital to win power.

Control of southwestern states is seen as a key battleground and both parties have been pushing hard to win over voters.

"It's going to be very close," said Jideofor Adibe, a political scientist at Nasarawa State University.

"I think the odds favour the president despite everything because of the power of incumbency... (But) Jonathan has to find a way to stop the momentum.

"The momentum right now is with the APC... Whatever he (Jonathan) does, he has to do it quickly."

An APC victory would dump the PDP out of power for the first time since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Ngwodo said regardless of politics, "it would be generally positive for the democratic process".

"We would be moving from the hegemony of one party to having democracy with turnover, which incentivises good governance.

"Politicians will know that they can be sanctioned by the ballot so they have to raise their game. That would be all round a positive outcome for the populace."

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