NIGERIANS are to go to the polls at the weekend to vote for a new President, amid fears of a growing humanitarian crisis and an escalation of attacks by Islamist militants.
The first of two general elections takes place on Saturday. There are 60 candidates on the ballot paper, but the front runners are the serving President, Muhammadu Buhari, and a former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, who has faced numerous corruption allegations.
The Independent National Electoral Commission reports that more than 84 million people have registered to vote this year — a record figure.
Nigeria, with a population of 190 million, is the most populous nation in Africa, and yet 60 per cent are classed as living in absolute poverty. About half the population are Christian, and half are Muslim.
The Christian charity Tearfund, which is working in the region, said that the run-up to the polls had been tense.
Tearfund’s country representative for Nigeria, Paul Mershak, said: “Politicians are desperately vying for positions, leading to a lot of tension in the country. Despite this, we are trusting God for free and fair elections. The election is crucial for Nigeria as it tries to find long-term peace.”
Continuing attacks by Boko Haram in the north-east of Nigeria have left nearly eight million people in need of humanitarian aid, including 4.5 million children, the latest figures released by UNICEF show. Two million people have been forced to flee their homes because of continuing violence.
Mr Buhari came to power four years ago, promising to crush Boko Haram, but attacks by the militants have escalated in recent months. Their campaign of violence in the north-east of the country has left an estimated 27,000 people dead.
Multiple attacks on the city of Rann, in Borno State, last month, emptied it, sending 30,000 people fleeing for their lives. “Nobody was spared” in one assault, including the clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières and the UNICEF clinic, the chief of mission of the UN Migration Agency, Frantz Celestin, said.
Amid ongoing insecurity, humanitarian access is limited, hampering the ability of aid agencies to help those in need.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled into already overcrowded camps, mainly in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Thousands more have gone across the border into Cameroon, Médecins Sans Frontières has said, where they have no water, shelter, or food. The United Nations estimates a total of 60,000 people have been displaced since November.
Last week, thousands of people who had fled their homes because of violence protested in the streets in Maiduguri about lack of food and poor treatment by officials in the camps in which they have been forced to live.