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Turbulence marks final days before polls in Nigeria

Eighteen opposition parties have threatened to boycott the vote in Nigeria.

world Updated: Apr 20, 2007 11:43 IST

Nigeria has seen a rowdy final week ahead of historic presidential elections on Saturday, marked with a boycott threat by opposition parties, the vice president's triumphant return and violence that left some 50 dead.

But 61 million Nigerians are set to vote in polls that, if successful, will see the first handover of power from one civilian government to another since independence from Britain in 1960.

Former military ruler President Olusegun Obasanjo is set to give up power after eight years in office heading the People's Democratic Party (PDP) but he leaves amid accusations that his government rigged last Saturday's gubernatorial elections and that the presidential voting could be equally flawed.

Some 50 people were killed during last week's vote and observers have said more violence during the presidential polls is likely.

Eighteen opposition parties threatened to boycott the vote in Africa's most populous country of 140 million unless conditions are put in place that make it free and fair.

But the alliance crumbled ahead of the polls as the top contender Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People's Party bowed out, sparking a quick exit from the other main challenger Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress party.

With the alliance seemingly dead, Abubakar inched closer to contending in the election. After weeks of uncertainty, only this week was he cleared to run.

After a long feud with Obasanjo, Abubakar's name was removed from the list of presidential candidates by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over graft charges levelled against him.

Abubakar successfully challenged the decision in the courts, but his political future is contingent upon INEC's ability to somehow get his name on ballot papers before Saturday.

Buhari is also seen as a strong challenger. He ruled the country under a military regime in the mid-1980s and is viewed as a disciplinarian who could bring some reform to the impoverished and notoriously corrupt West African nation.

Both men are set to come up against the PDP's candidate and favourite, Umaru Yar'adua, a 56-year-old former chemistry teacher and sitting governor for northern Katsina State.

But with vast wealth and resources, the PDP is expected to slide to victory, especially after having won 27 of 34 states in the gubernatorial elections.

The fairness of its win is likely to come under scrutiny by the opposition and impartial observers alike, but the polls are set to go ahead on the date planned, despite calls for a postponement.