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High hopes as 84 million Nigerians head to the polls

A record number of 73 candidates are on the ballot

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People gather near information posters to find their polling stations at the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at Aba - AFP

Nigeria made final preparations on the eve of a presidential election, with continuity pitted against reform in a battle between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and his main rival Atiku Abubakar.

Buhari, the 76-year-old leader of Africa’s most populous nation, was elected in 2015 on a wave of hope he could defeat Boko Haram Islamists, tackle rampant corruption and boost the economy.

But he faces a stiff challenge from former vice-president Abubakar, 72, amid fears about widening insecurity, claims of creeping authoritarianism and economic incompetence.

Analysts were split over who would win Saturday’s ballot, which is the sixth in the 20 years since Nigeria returned to democracy after decades of miliary rule.

“It’s likely to be very, very tight,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior Nigeria researcher at the International Crisis Group think-tank.

“Initially the president and the ruling party were way ahead in the race but in recent times the opposition has been seen to make a more vigorous and more robust campaign.

“We can’t say exactly how it will go,” he told BBC World Service radio.

A record number of 73 candidates are on the ballot but Buhari, from the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are considered the main contenders.

Over 84 million people are registered to vote — up 18 percent on 2015 and another record, which has been taken as a sign of Nigeria’s developing democracy.

Also up for grabs are 360 seats in the lower House of Representatives and 109 in the Senate.

Nearly 120,000 polling units are set to open at 0700 GMT and close at 1600 GMT. 

No date has been given for the results, but an announcement is expected from early next week.

Electors face a choice between two elderly candidates who have both been part of the political elite for decades and do not mirror the country’s increasingly young demographic.

Just over half the registered voters are aged 18-35.

Chief among the criticisms against Buhari is security, with signs of a resurgence of Boko Haram in Nigeria’s remote northeast and new conflicts elsewhere.

His anti-corruption campaign has been described as one-sided, unduly targeting political opponents. 

Economic growth picked up last year after a recession in 2016 but remains sluggish. The cost of living is high in a country where most of the 190 million people live in poverty despite billions earned from oil.

Abubakar, 72, bills himself as a dynamic, modern, pro-business leader. But the former vice-president faces allegations about links to corruption.

Buhari said in a televised address Thursday that reelection would give him the chance to fulfil his initial promises and complete vital infrastructure projects.

“There is no best candidate among them,” said Aliyu Jibrilla, a 70-year-old retired teacher in the Adamawa state capital, Yola, adding: “Intellectually… they’re not up to it”.

“It’s about time these old people go,” added Modibbo Sadiq, a 23-year-old university graduate.

In Buhari’s home town of Daura, in Katsina state, Abdulaziz Abdullahi agreed. “Ideally, the young generation should be in charge of country,” said the 25-year-old, who sells glasses.

“But they are not ready for the job.”

Security is a constant threat in Nigeria, after previous outbreaks of deadly election-linked violence. 

As a precaution, all vehicles have been ordered off the roads from 6am to 6pm Saturday.

Nigeria’s police chief Mohammed Adamu said the restrictions were designed to prevent “hoodlums and criminally-minded elements from hijacking and disrupting the electoral process”.

With a reinforced police and military presence on the streets Friday, the interior ministry announced that land borders will shut for 48 hours from midday.

Candidates have pledged to conduct peaceful elections and to accept the results, but there have been clashes in the southern state of Rivers.

APC candidates have been prevented from running in the parliamentary and governorship elections in Rivers because of a dispute over their selection.

Vote-rigging has marred previous Nigerian elections, and this year concerns have been raised both the APC and PDP may have sought to buy votes.

Red flags also went up after voter cards were distributed late, or not at all, and three fires in 12 days Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices.

Ahmad Ado Hasan, 21, a tailor and first-time voter in the northern city of Kano, said: “As a citizen, you should vote your choice, not sell your vote. 

“God has already destined the winner, we are only to confirm through our votes. So, vote buying is not the answer.”

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Egyptian authorities detain 8 accused of funding plot to ‘overthrow the state’

The detentions came after the interior ministry said 19 businesses were raided by police on Tuesday in the capital Cairo

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eight people arrested and detained by egyptian authorities

Eight people have been detained by the Egyptian authorities on accusations of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and helping to fund a plot to overthrow the state, a judicial source said. Those being held included businessmen, journalists and political figures, who have been placed in temporary detention for 15 days, the source said, while Amnesty International described the “chilling” arrests as politically motivated. 

The detentions came after the interior ministry said 19 businesses were raided by police on Tuesday in the capital Cairo and the cities of Alexandria and Ismaila. The raids were in response to the businesses allegedly funding a plot “intent on overthrowing the state and its institutions” this month, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Related: Egyptian court adds 145 people to terrorism list

They were part of a plan along with groups “claiming to represent civil political forces” which sought to carry out “violent acts and unrest against the state”, it added. A total of 250 million Egyptian pounds ($15 million) was seized in the raids, according to the ministry statement.

The government did not detail the type of businesses targeted but said they were affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group. Prominent human rights lawyer Zyad el-Elaimy, who was among those arrested, was visiting a friend in Maadi, a Cairo suburb, when police detained him in the early hours of Tuesday, his mother Ekram Youssef said. 

“Some people grabbed him so he started shouting at his friend. He eventually cooperated with them once the friend came,” she said. Elaimy played a key role in the movement that unseated autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and he subsequently served as a lawmaker for a year.

Hassan Barbary, another of those arrested, had initially been charged with joining and funding a terror group, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. Two of the eight detained were reportedly facing accusations of collaborating to spread fake news. 

Rights watchdog Amnesty slammed Egyptian authorities for their “systematic persecution and brutal crackdown on anyone who dares to criticise them”.

“The crackdown leaves no doubt about the authorities’ vision for political life in Egypt; an open-air prison with no opposition, critics, or independent reporting allowed,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, the group’s North Africa research director.

Related: ‘Back at square one’: Sudan protest leaders plan fresh June 30 march

Since the 2013 military overthrow of elected Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi – who died last week after collapsing in court – there has been a widespread crackdown on dissent. Thousands of Islamists, as well as secularists, have been jailed following trials criticised internationally, while Egypt says it is countering terrorism.

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Opposition party candidates cry foul over ruling party victory in Mauritania elections

“We reject the results of the election and we consider that they in no way express the will of the Mauritanian people,”

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Mohamed Vall Ould Bellal, president of the Independent National Electoral Commission, attends a press conference

Mauritania’s ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani has won the presidential election with 52 per cent of the vote, the electoral commission announced Sunday, with opposition candidates crying foul. Ghazouani easily beat main opposition opponents Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid (18.58 per cent) and Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar (17.87 per cent), according to the official figures from Saturday’s polls.

Former prime minister Boubacar, addressing a news conference along with three other candidates, charged that “multiple irregularities…eliminated any credibility” in the election, which was to be the first democratic transfer of power in the country.

“We reject the results of the election and we consider that they in no way express the will of the Mauritanian people,” he said, vowing the opposition would use “every legal means” to challenge them.

The CENI electoral commission said voter turnout was 62.66 per cent. With a clear majority, the 62-year-old Ghazouani, former head of the domestic security service, has won outright with no need for a second-round runoff election.

Appeal to the people

Ghazouani had already declared himself the winner in the early hours of Sunday in the presence of outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, his supporters and journalists. Second-placed Abeid, an anti-slavery activist, told the opposition news conference: “We are launching an appeal to the Mauritanian people… to resist, within the bounds of the law, this umpteenth coup d’etat against the will of the people.”

Incidents broke out between protesters and police following Ghazouani’s declaration in the capital and in northwest Nouadhibou, the only province where he did not come in first. The opposition said they were planning protests from Monday afternoon.

“We will organise protests, this is our constitutional right,” Mohamed Ould Moloud, who got 2.44 per cent of the vote, told the news conference late Sunday, stressing they would be peaceful. Baba Hamidou Kane, who polled 8.71 per cent, said the four opposition candidates would lodge an official protest with the electoral commission on Monday.

Although the vote is the first in Mauritania’s history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and transfer power to an elected successor, the opposition has raised concerns that the vote could perpetuate a government dominated by military figures.

Some 1.5 million people were eligible to vote in the predominantly Muslim state, which is estimated to be twice the size of France but has a population of just 4.5 million.

Alleged irregularities

CENI advised all candidates “to show prudence and restraint”, and hoped the calm during the campaign and on the voting day would prevail. Both Abeid and Boubacar had complained of balloting irregularities and the expulsion of representatives from some polling stations. However, CENI said no major problems had been reported.

Ghazouani – who campaigned on the themes of continuity, solidarity and security – served as Abdel Aziz’s chief of staff from 2008 to last year. The outgoing president is a general who originally came to power in a 2008 coup. He won elections a year later and was again elected in 2014 in polls boycotted by the opposition.

Abdel Aziz repeatedly warned that the country could fall back into instability if his chosen candidate was not elected. He is credited with reforming the army, clamping down on jihadists and pushing to develop remote regions.

Nevertheless, rights groups have accused Mauritania’s government of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, while calling on the nation to do more to counter violence against women and slavery, which persists in the conservative state even though it was officially abolished in 1981.

Authorities rejected an opposition request for foreign observers at the election. All of the candidates promised improvements in the standard of living, though economic growth at 3.6 per cent in 2018 is insufficient to meet the needs of a fast-growing population, according to the World Bank.

The World Bank has welcomed the “macro-economic stabilisation” of the country, where annual growth is expected to average 6.2 per cent between 2019 and 2021. But it has called for barriers to be removed in the private sector, pointing in particular to corruption, as well as difficult access to credit.

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Boko Haram attack kills 8 in Chad

Security sources said the seven Chadian soldiers and the guard were killed in an ambush on Friday in Mbomouga in Chad’s Ngouboua area

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Seven Chadian soldiers and a local guard were killed in a Boko Haram jihadist ambush in Lake Chad, the latest in a surge of attacks in the region, security sources said on Sunday. Boko Haram militants have been waging a decade-long insurgency in northwest Nigeria, but the conflict has spilt into Lake Chad where Nigeria borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Security sources said the seven Chadian soldiers and the guard were killed in an ambush on Friday in Mbomouga in Chad’s Ngouboua area, and another 13 people were wounded. “The Boko Haram forces lost six of their people and left behind two weapons,” one security source said.

Among the soldiers killed was a gendarme colonel, the source said. Another source said three army officers were killed in the attack. Since 2018, Boko Haram has carried out at least nine attacks on Chad. But the jihadist group has stepped up attacks outside Nigeria after a period of calm last year

Last month, militants killed four people in an attack on a Cameroonian island on Lake Chad and Boko Haram killed another 13 villagers in eastern Chad. In March jihadists killed at least 23 Chadian soldiers in an attack on an army post in the group’s deadliest attack on the country’s military.

Since 2015, troops from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have been grouped into a mixed, multi-national force in a bid to help fight Islamist militants.

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