West Africa votes: Nigeria at standstill, Ecowas urges Togo poll delay and tension over Guinea elections

Africa’s biggest economy shuts borders ahead of Saturday ballot as region in a flurry over polls

NIGERIA ramped up security nationwide on Wednesday before general elections this weekend, shutting land as well as sea borders and vowing to crack down hard on political unrest.

This came as West African regional bloc ECOWAS urged Togo to delay its presidential election over claims the voter register was flawed, while the government of Guinea sought dialogue after the three main opposition leaders called for renewed protests against President Alpha Conde over upcoming elections.  

Security is at the fore ahead of the Nigerian presidential and parliamentary vote, with military operations against Boko Haram forcing the postponement of the poll’s initial February 14 date.

Since then, Nigeria’s military and its coalition partners Niger, Chad and Cameroon have claimed a series of successes, forcing the Islamist militants out of captured territory in the northeast.

Fears of a bombing campaign against voters and polling stations remain though, after a spate of suicide attacks against “soft” targets such as markets and bus stations in the north.

The Department of State Services, Nigeria’s secret police, on Wednesday called for extreme vigilance in crowded places before, during and after Saturday’s election.

Previous Nigerian elections have been blighted by extreme political violence.

In 2011 some 1,000 people were killed after Goodluck Jonathan beat former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari in the presential election.

But Jonathan on Wednesday said that the government would “not tolerate any form of violence during or after the polls”.

“I am giving my total commitment to peaceful elections in the country, not because I am persuaded to do so but because I believe in it,” the president added.

Fear is rife
Fears are still high of clashes between supporters of his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) after a tight election campaign.

Nigeria’s human rights commission has said nearly 60 people have been killed already in election-linked violence, despite an agreement between all candidates for a peaceful poll.

The head of the Nigerian Army, Lieutenant General Kenneth Minimah, said he did not envisage problems but appealed to politicians and their followers to keep the peace.

The president of Togo Faure Gnassingbe

“Whoever wants to invoke or provoke violence will meet organised violence waiting for him,” he told reporters in Abuja.

Security measures will stay in place until after gubernatorial and state assembly polls on April 11, he added.

On Wednesday, Jonathan ordered the closure of all land and sea borders from midnight (2300 GMT Wednesday) until the same time on Saturday, after voting is over.

The interior ministry said the move was designed “to allow for peaceful conduct of the forthcoming national elections”.

At the same time, the immigration service warned that non-Nigerians should not take part “in any part of the election processes”.

Nigeria’s federal police had already announced a “total restriction” on movement from the time that polling stations open at 8:00 am on Saturday until 5:00 pm, with only “essential” services exempted.

Togo delay call
In nearby Togo, ECOWAS chairman and Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama said during a visit Tuesday it was unlikely the election would be able to go ahead as planned on April 15 as the electoral roll was being revised.

“As a result, ECOWAS proposes that the election is delayed by 10 days to allow the election list to be revised so everyone is satisfied,” Mahama told reporters.

He met President Faure Gnassingbe—who is running for re-election—and other officials including the main opposition candidate, during his visit.

Neither the government nor the electoral commission has yet responded to the ECOWAS proposal.

The opposition in the tiny west African country claims the electoral roll is plagued with “serious anomalies” and says it must be checked before a transparent vote can be held.

Guinea concerns
In fragile Guinea, which is battling Ebola, the government reached out to the opposition who have called protests. 

“I would like to repeat the government’s desire to find ways to restore confidence in the electoral process and to respect the constitution. But especially to preserve social peace,” government spokesman Albert Damantang Camara told a press conference.

In a joint statement signed Tuesday in Paris, former prime ministers Cellou Dalein Diallo, Sidya Toure and Lansana Kouyate accused Conde of repeated rights violations and said he had “lost all legitimacy”.

The opposition boycotted parliament earlier this month in protest over the timetable for presidential elections, accusing Conde of using the Ebola epidemic as an excuse to postpone voting and refusing to enter into a dialogue over the timetable.

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