Nigeria’s commercial hub is in the middle of election fever. The country heads to the polls on Valentine’s Day amid a Boko Haram insurgency wreaking havoc throughout the north-east.
The security situation deteriorated further this week when a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a rally in Gombe, a city in the north-east, a few minutes after President Goodluck Jonathan had left. The presidential convoy was parked 200 metres from the explosion on Monday. One person was killed and 18 others were injured.
At the same time, Nigerian soldiers and vigilante groups were trying to repel the Islamist militants’ advance on the northern city of Maiduguri. Boko Haram fighters initially tried to capture Maiduguri a week ago, but were resisted by Nigerian troops.
With a population of over one million, it is a key strategic battleground in a conflict that shows no sign of abating. It is also a city, as with the vast majority of the north-east, that is expected to vote for the opposition All Progressives Congress party, led by the former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.
“Our vote will certainly be impacted,” said Lai Mohammed, an APC spokesman. “It is the responsibility of the government to ensure voter security but they’ve failed to achieve this.” The vote on 14 February will pit the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Mr Jonathan against Mr Buhari’s APC.
Doyin Okupe, senior adviser to Mr Jonathan, disagreed that the violence will harm Mr Jonathan’s chances. “We’re doing all we can to fight this insurgency and ensure voter security,” he told The Independent. “This is the largest deployment of troops in Nigerian history and the elections will go ahead.”
Despite calls from security experts to postpone next month’s election, both Mr Jonathan and Mr Buhari have reassured voters that it cannot be done. Any postponement would be an admission of failure, while the APC believes that it has the momentum to sweep to victory. “The whole country is ready for change and a leader with the moral authority to fight Boko Haram; only Buhari can win this war,” said the APC’s Mr Mohammed.
As Nigerians gear up to vote in the shadow of daily terrorist attacks, there are also concerns that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is running out of time to oversee credible elections. Just over half the electorate have collected their electronic permanent voter card, and enabling the thousands of internally displaced people to vote is problematic.
The rise of Boko Haram
The rise of Boko Haram
1/19 Boko Haram
The leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau delivers a message. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the mass killings in the north-east Nigerian town of Baga in a video where he warned the massacre “was just the tip of the iceberg”. As many as 2,000 civilians were killed and 3,700 homes and business were destroyed in the 3 January 2015 attack on the town near Nigeria's border with Cameroon
2/19 Boko Haram
People displaced as a result of Boko Haram attacks in the northeast region of Nigeria, are seen near their tents at a faith-based camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Yola, Adamawa State. Boko Haram says it is building an Islamic state that will revive the glory days of northern Nigeria's medieval Muslim empires, but for those in its territory life is a litany of killings, kidnappings, hunger and economic collapse
3/19 Boko Haram
Nitsch Eberhard Robert, a German citizen abducted and held hostage by suspected Boko Haram militants, is seen as he arrives at the Yaounde Nsimalen International airport after his release in Yaounde, Cameroon on 21 January 2015
4/19 Boko Haram
Officials of the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) visit victims of a bomb blast in Gombe at the Specialist Hospital in Gombe. According to local reports at least six people were killed and 11 wounded after a bomb blast in a marketplace in Nigeria's northeastern state of Gombe on 16 January 2015. Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been blamed for a string of recent attacks in the North East of Nigeria
5/19 Boko Haram
People gather at the site of a bomb explosion in a area know to be targeted by the militant group Boko Haram in Kano on 28 November 2014
6/19 Boko Haram
People gather to look at a burnt vehicle following a bomb explosion that rocked the busiest roundabout near the crowded Market in Maiduguri, Borno State on 1 July 2014. A truck exploded in a huge fireball killing at least 15 people in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the city repeatedly hit by Boko Haram Islamists
7/19 Boko Haram
President Goodluck Jonathan visits Nigerian Army soldiers fighting Boko Haram
8/19 Boko Haram
Displaced people from Baga listen to Goodluck Jonathan after the Boko Haram killings
9/19 Boko Haram
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan speaking to troops during a visit to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State; most of the region has been overrun by Boko Haram
10/19 Boko Haram
Members of the Nigerian military patrolling in Maiduguri, North East Nigeria, close to the scene of attacks by Boko Haram
11/19 Boko Haram
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, appears in a video in which he warns Cameroon it faces the same fate as Nigeria
12/19 Boko Haram
South Africans protest in solidarity against the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram and what protesters said was the failure of the Nigerian government and international community to rescue them, during a march to the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg
13/19 Boko Haram
Boko Haram militants have seized the town in north-eastern Nigeria that nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped from in April 2014
14/19 Boko Haram
A soldier stands guard in front of burnt buses after an attack in Abuja. Twin blasts at a bus station packed with morning commuters on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital killed dozens of people, in what appeared to be the latest attack by Boko Haram Islamists, April 2014
15/19 Boko Haram
The aftermath of the attack, when Boko Haram fighters in trucks painted in military colours killed 51 people in Konduga in February 2014
16/19 Boko Haram
The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau (with papers) in a video grab taken in July 2014
17/19 Boko Haram
Ruins of burnt out houses in the north-eastern settlement of Baga, pictured after Boko Haram attacks in 2013
18/19 Boko Haram
A Boko Haram attack in Nigeria, 2013
19/19 Boko Haram
Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader
“People in refugee camps will get to vote but the army must provide security,” said the INEC spokesman, Kayode Idowu. In order to beef up security in the north-east, vigilante groups have now joined forces with the Nigerian army to fight Boko Haram. One such group, the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, said it was facing “heavy attacks” every day.
A spokesman for the group, Abbas Gava, said: “We were fighting for five hours yesterday and we’re expecting more attacks today. There’s unity between us and the military to fight the insurgents. Together we will provide security for the elections.”
In addition, French military aircraft are carrying out surveillance missions to help countries bordering Nigeria tackle the insurgency. And today the African Union authorised a force of 7,500 troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin to fight the militants.
Many ordinary Nigerians are worried, however. At the huge electronic market of Alaba in Lagos, trader Ibrahim Bakare is one of many who will travel back to the north-east to vote. “I’m scared to vote, it’s true, but it’s not in our nature to give in to terror and we must remember that democracy must be fought for,” said Mr Bakare.
Nigeria remains split between a predominantly Muslim north, and Christian south. When Mr Buhari, a Muslim, lost the last presidential elections to Mr Jonathan in 2011 it set off a wave of violence in the north. Mobs of Muslim youths rioted in the northern city of Kaduna, and retaliatory attacks left hundreds dead. The head of a leading Nigerian civil rights group blamed Mr Buhari for failing to rein in the violence.
There are now fears that a closely fought election, with the same result as in 2011, could result in further violence. “General Buhari speaks for peace but how can he control every single individual?” the APC’s Mr Mohammed said. “The APC chairman is a Christian and the APC is not a Muslim party. We speak for the whole of Nigeria.”
In a Lagos bar, PDP activists were meeting this week to plan the final stages of their campaign. PDP supporters were confident Mr Jonathan would be re-elected. “We will beat Boko Haram in the next four years; we don’t want change,” said one PDP supporter.
Many Nigerians however, disagree. In Lagos, multicoloured APC posters (“Change!”) adorn walls in huge numbers. Their supporters are increasingly enthusiastic they will win, believing Mr Buhari can provide the impetus to restore peace within Nigeria.
If enough Nigerians agree, then Nigeria could be on course for a new government after 16 years of PDP rule.Reuse content