The security situation deteriorated further this week when a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a rally in Gombe, a city in the north-east, a few minutes after President Goodluck Jonathan had left. The presidential convoy was parked 200 metres from the explosion on Monday. One person was killed and 18 others were injured.
At the same time, Nigerian soldiers and vigilante groups were trying to repel the Islamist militants’ advance on the northern city of Maiduguri. Boko Haram fighters initially tried to capture Maiduguri a week ago, but were resisted by Nigerian troops.
With a population of over one million, it is a key strategic battleground in a conflict that shows no sign of abating. It is also a city, as with the vast majority of the north-east, that is expected to vote for the opposition All Progressives Congress party, led by the former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.
“Our vote will certainly be impacted,” said Lai Mohammed, an APC spokesman. “It is the responsibility of the government to ensure voter security but they’ve failed to achieve this.” The vote on 14 February will pit the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Mr Jonathan against Mr Buhari’s APC.
President Goodluck Jonathan during a visit to the north-eastern town of Gombe on Monday as part of his election campaign (Reuters)
Doyin Okupe, senior adviser to Mr Jonathan, disagreed that the violence will harm Mr Jonathan’s chances. “We’re doing all we can to fight this insurgency and ensure voter security,” he told The Independent. “This is the largest deployment of troops in Nigerian history and the elections will go ahead.”
Despite calls from security experts to postpone next month’s election, both Mr Jonathan and Mr Buhari have reassured voters that it cannot be done. Any postponement would be an admission of failure, while the APC believes that it has the momentum to sweep to victory. “The whole country is ready for change and a leader with the moral authority to fight Boko Haram; only Buhari can win this war,” said the APC’s Mr Mohammed.
As Nigerians gear up to vote in the shadow of daily terrorist attacks, there are also concerns that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is running out of time to oversee credible elections. Just over half the electorate have collected their electronic permanent voter card, and enabling the thousands of internally displaced people to vote is problematic.