Nigerian presidential election scheduled for January 22; INEC in a rush to make deadlines.
September 7, 2010, Abuja/AFP: Nigeria will hold its presidential ballot on January 22, officials said Tuesday, leaving little time to prepare in Africa’s most populous nation, where elections have regularly been plagued by fraud.
The electoral commission’s announcement of the date comes with President Goodluck Jonathan yet to say whether he will run, and as officials face a monumental task in compiling a voter list in the oil-rich country.
Voter lists in the 2007 elections were riddled with false entries, and the election was widely viewed as marred by rigging and violence.
Jonathan, who came to power following the death of Umaru Yar’Adua in May, has pledged free and fair elections in the country of 150 million people.
Many observers have expressed doubts over the promise, and the president has been accused in recent days of ordering corruption investigations into those opposed to his candidacy.
While Jonathan has not said if he will run, he is widely expected to do so soon. His backers are believed to be working intensely behind the scenes to line up the necessary support.
He faces deep disagreement within his ruling Peoples Democratic Party over whether it should abandon Jonathan, a southern Christian, in favour of a candidate from the country’s mainly Muslim north.
The dispute within the ruling party is linked to an unwritten policy that says it should rotate its candidates between the north and predominately Christian south every two terms.
The policy serves as a way of smoothing over ethnic, religious and social divides in the vast West African country.
Since Yar’Adua died before his first term was up, some argue another northern candidate should be chosen.
Two candidates from the north — former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida and ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar — are seeking the ruling party’s nomination.
There had also been intense speculation over the election date, with lawmakers approving a constitutional amendment moving it forward from April to January. Some have argued the president must sign off on the change.
Electoral commission spokesman Solomon Adedeji Soyebi did not address those issues on Tuesday and instead simply read off the list of dates to reporters. He took no questions.
“Dates of elections: national assembly elections, 15th January 2011; presidential elections, 22nd January 2011; governorship/state assembly elections, 29th January 2011,” he said.
Party primaries are to be held between September 11 and October 30, while registration of voters is to occur between November 1-14.
“Credible elections start with a credible register. The outcome of the voters registration exercise is going to tell what will happen,” said Tajudeen Akanji of the University of Ibadan’s centre for conflict prevention.
The PDP has dominated Nigerian politics since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.
Jonathan would be the first elected president from the Ijaw ethnic group, mainly spread throughout the Niger Delta, the country’s main oil-producing region.
He faces pressure to bring a definitive end to unrest there that has disrupted oil production in recent years.
An amnesty programme for militants put forward last year by Yar’Adua has been credited with bringing relative peace to the region, but cracks have shown recently.
The killing a couple weeks ago of a prominent ex-militant accused of helping rig 2007 elections has raised questions over the programme and sparked fears that local gangs will again be used to intimidate voters. ref: AFP reports from Ola Awoniyi.