Abuja:Nigeria’s presidential candidates wrapped up their election campaigns on Thursday, making a final pitch to voters before Africa’s most populous country heads to the polls.
President Muhammadu Buhari addressed crowds of supporters in his home state of Katsina in the northwest, while his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, held his last rally in his native Adamawa, in the northeast.
Buhari, 76, is seeking a second, four-year term of office on Saturday but is facing a strong challenge from Abubakar, 72, who has campaigned largely against the president’s record in office.
There has been little or no reliable opinion polling but observers expect a close race, with results expected from early next week.
Some voters said they were faced with a stark choice between two ageing candidates of the political establishment who were becoming ill-suited to an increasingly young electorate.
Just over half (51 percent) of the 84 million registered voters are aged 18 to 35.
“It’s about time these old people go,” said Modibbo Sadiq, a 23-year-old university graduate, in the Adamawa state capital, Yola.
“The same people who come out for Buhari are the same who come for Atiku,” he told AFP.
– Video messages –
In what he called a “state-of-the-nation address”, Abubakar said Buhari had failed to address insecurity, led a one-sided anti-corruption campaign and weakened the economy.
“Nigeria cannot survive another four years of this misdirection and maladministration,” he said, declaring that Buhari’s re-election would spell “disaster” for Nigeria.
Despite his age, Abubakar, a former vice-president and businessman representing the Peoples Democratic Party, has tried to appeal to younger voters.
Part of his campaign strategy has been to publish his manifesto entirely in emojis.
Former military Buhari meanwhile issued a video message in which he conceded his time in office “has not been an easy journey”.
But he maintained the government had made “great progress”.
“Some of these achievements are visible for everyone to see. Some are still in the works,” he said, asking for support “to consolidate” the progress so far.
– Port Harcourt clashes –
Buhari, Abubakar and some 70 other presidential candidates on Wednesday signed a “peace accord” and promised to accept the result.
But on Thursday, APC supporters in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt clashed with police as they tried to storm the local Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office.
Police fired teargas and the crowd dispersed, an AFP correspondent said.
The protest follows a Supreme Court ruling that upheld a ban on the APC fielding candidates in Saturday’s parliamentary elections or the vote for a new governor on March 2.
In-fighting in the local party saw two separate primary held to choose candidates and competing court cases to determine the legitimacy of one or the other.
The apex court said neither was valid while INEC says the deadline has passed for the submission of candidates.
Rivers state, of which Port Harcourt is the capital, has long been a flashpoint for political violence: in 2015, there were APC protests at the election results and claims of rigging.
On a national level, there have been warning that both main parties could try to rig by buying biometric cards needed by voters to cast their ballot.
In the northern city of Kano, police said two men were arrested in possession of 14 bags of specimen ballot papers, which they said they were taking to neighbouring Jigawa state.
In the southeastern state of Abia, meanwhile, INEC officials brushed off concerns about the effect of a fire at one of its offices that destroyed 4,965 voter card readers.
The blaze was the third in 12 days. The machines are used to verify biometric details of those on the electoral register to enable them to vote.
– Boko Haram –
The threat of attack from Boko Haram Islamists loomed large over the last elections in 2015 and fears persist that the jihadists could again attempt to disrupt the vote.
On Tuesday, four people were killed in a Boko Haram ambush on a convoy of vehicles carrying the outgoing governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, as he headed to campaign meetings.
Shettima called the attack as a publicity stunt “to attract local and global media attention”.
Concerns meanwhile have been expressed about the ability to vote of some of the 1.8 million people made homeless by the conflict.
Ten polling stations have been set up for some 400,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Borno while three sites will be open for “IDP voting” in neighbouring Adamawa, INEC said.