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Nigerian President Will Not Face Main Rivals at Final Debate

Published on Wednesday 30th March 2011

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Wednesday takes part in the final presidential debate ahead of three weeks of nationwide elections. But he will not be facing his biggest rivals, who are boycotting the event because Jonathan refused to take part in an earlier debate.

President Jonathan will not be facing his biggest rivals in this debate because he declined an invitation to a debate earlier this month that included his main challenger - former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari - along with former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu and the All Nigeria People's Party candidate Ibrahim Shekarau.
At that debate, they criticized the president for not showing up to defend a ruling party that has won every presidential contest since Nigeria's return to civilian rule in 1999.
Presidential, legislative, and gubernatorial candidates are wrapping up their campaigns ahead of nationwide elections in Africa's most populous country. Issues of security and the economy have dominated the campaign. Human Rights Watch says the candidates are not paying enough attention to issues of communal violence and corruption.
Election observers say they will be watching for signs of violence between Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria, especially as Jonathan is from the predominantly Christian south and his three main challengers are from the mainly-Muslim north.
"I am hopeful that the level of violence will be contained such that overall the elections will remain credible,” says former Botswana President Festus Mogae, who heads the Commonwealth observer team. “We should not be too excited and take isolated incidents of violence as affecting the whole outcome of all the elections."
Mogae says election observers and Nigerians will be looking for a cleaner vote than the 2007 contest, which was marred by ballot-stuffing and fraud.
"We will consider among other things whether or not conditions exist for free and competitive elections, the electoral commission is independent and effective," he said. "The voter register provides for universal suffrage, state institutions and public media are impartial, there is a level playing field in the campaign and that the campaign is free of violence, voters are free to express their will and the results process is transparent."
President Jonathan is promising free, fair, and credible elections that he says will restore Nigeria to its rightful place in the international community.
Evelyn Eve Akpotu is a local co-ordinator for voter education in Delta State. She says voter workshops have focused on the mechanics of proper voting and the importance of preventing politicians from trying to buy the vote.
"They need to vote once because if you vote more than once your vote will be canceled,” Akpotu said. “And underage must not be part of the voting. We also educate the people on the need not to collect money before voting. They should be sure of the candidate they are voting for and be sure that that is a credible candidate who can bring development to their communities.”
She is hopeful the vote will be peaceful despite several bomb attacks at campaign events over the last month.
“There are some youths who are still not understanding what it means not to be violent. In any area where there is violence the vote might be canceled, so it is better for them to be calm and do the right thing. So we are expecting peace in the election,” Akpotu adds.
Security forces are deploying across the country ahead of Saturday's first round of voting to prevent further violence.

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