Nigeria’s two main presidential candidates urged the public to vote in a pivotal election on Saturday as they tried to avert a slump in turnout after a week-long delay to the poll. The postponement of the national and parliamentary polls, likely to be the biggest election in African history, sparked outrage across Nigeria, deepening disillusionment with the political system and making it harder for some to vote.
The government declared a national holiday on Friday in an effort to accommodate roughly 73m eligible voters, many of whom will have to travel back to their polling places after the postponement announced last Saturday just hours before voting was set to begin. Millions of Nigerians go to their hometowns to vote at great personal expense. In order to alleviate the financial strain, both main parties have offered free buses to registered voters, while one national airline offered discounted flights for those with voter cards.
In a public address on Friday morning, President Muhammadu Buhari praised Nigerians for their “patience and peaceful conduct so far during this electoral season and especially during this intervening week following the postponement”. The Independent Nigerian Electoral Commission has offered sceptical Nigerians repeated assurances that Saturday’s election will take place. “We have no reason to believe that anything, except an act of God” could spark a further postponement, Inec chairman Mahmood Yakubu said at a press conference on Thursday.
In the week since Inec announced the delay, Mr Buhari’s All Progressives Congress and the main opposition People’s Democratic party candidate, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, have traded accusations of vote-rigging. The PDP has warned supporters to ensure their vote was not stolen and slammed the president for saying earlier this week that he had directed the security services to be “ruthless” when dealing with those seeking to disrupt or rig the election, who would do so “at the expense of their own life”.