Nigeria’s ruling party is desperate for votes and there are already signs of attempts to manipulate Saturday’s presidential election in some areas, main opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari told Reuters.
Voters massed at polling stations across Africa’s most populous nation for what they hope will be its most credible election for decades, a contest whose main rivals are President Goodluck Jonathan and former military ruler Buhari.
“We are getting a lot of sad information about people intercepting some printed voters cards in different parts of the country,” Buhari told Reuters in an interview in his residence in Daura, northern Nigeria.
“The ruling party is so desperate they could do anything and they are trying everything but luckily people are very sensitive this time around and they are determined to make their vote count,” he said, shortly before going to vote.
Jonathan is the front-runner in the polls. He is backed by the national machinery of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), whose candidate has won every presidential race since 1999.
But he faces stiff opposition from Buhari in the north.
Thousands lined the streets outside Buhari’s home, chanting his name as his car inched through the crowd.
Fears that a race between southern Christian Jonathan and northern Muslim Buhari could polarise Nigeria, home to equal numbers from both religions, have failed to materialise so far, with campaigns largely free of inflammatory rhetoric.
“That problem was brought into Nigeria by the ruling party. The ruling party went to the extent of putting it into their constitution,” Buhari said, referring to a pact in the PDP that power should rotate between north and south every two terms.
“The people from the north are just part of Nigeria. We leave the north/south dichotomy to the ruling party.”
Buhari ruled Nigeria after a New Year’s Eve coup in 1983 until August 1985, an iron-fisted administration best known for its “War Against Indiscipline”, a campaign against corruption in which politicians were jailed and drug traffickers executed.
He lost the last two presidential elections in 2003 and 2007, both marred by widespread intimidation and rigging, and has warned that Nigerians will not accept the same again.
“Uprisings from Tunisia to Yemen…have some influence on the Nigerian masses. I don’t know whether government realises it or not,” he said. “People are not going to take lightly what happened in 2003 and 2007.”
After legal battles over past elections, he said he personally would not challenge the outcome if he loses, but his Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party may do so.
“I will not go to court again. My party may decide to go but I will not go,” he said.
By Joe Brock, Reuters.