ABUJA – A Nigerian court on Wednesday effectively blocked an attempt to bar the main opposition candidate from running in what looks set to be the closest presidential race since military rule ended in 1999.
The court adjourned the case until April 22, leaving Muhammadu Buhari free to stand against President Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28 election.
Jonathan’s supporters had sought to disqualify the former military ruler on the grounds that he had forged his secondary school certificate, a charge the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has widely publicised and which is seen more as a smear campaign than a serious accusation.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”10″]
“They are interlopers and busy bodies who want to waste the time of this court,” Justice Adeniyi Ademola said of the plaintiffs who brought the petition.
Both the PDP and Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) have mounted so far unsuccessful challenges to the eligibility of each other’s candidates to rule Africa’s biggest economy, most populous nation and top oil producer.
Investors, electoral observers and foreign powers will be closely watching how Nigeria conducts this election. Past polls have been marred by ballot box stuffing, thuggery and in some cases completely fictitious results, although the one that gave Jonathan his first elected term in 2011 was deemed the fairest yet.
In a separate case this week, the Nigerian federal high court in Lagos barred the military from deploying near polling stations during the election, after the opposition raised fears that soldiers could be used to intimidate voters or tamper with ballot boxes.
The multiple court cases underline the ethnic, regional and in some cases religious divisions among the electorate: Jonathan is a southern Christian from the oil-producing Niger Delta while Buhari is a Muslim from the semi-arid north.
Neither side is likely to concede defeat, raising fears that violence could follow whatever the outcome. When Buhari lost to Jonathan in 2011, 800 people died in three days of riots that left some 65,000 homeless. Western powers fear even worse or more protracted bloodshed this time around.
“I call on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections, and that they will not incite, support or engage in any kind of violence,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a message to Nigerians on Monday.
“It is the responsibility of all citizens to help keep the peace, no matter who wins.”
The Nigerian military said it detained two al Jazeera journalists on Wednesday in their hotel in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, in an area plagued by an Islamist insurgency, and seized their equipment, saying their presence was unauthorised.
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“Foreign journalists have earlier been cautioned against unauthorised movements around the military operations area,” the statement said.
(Reporting by Felix Obuah; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Ruth Pitchford) (Reuters)