US, other govts urge calm for Nigeria election

US, European and other governments on Thursday urged Nigerian leaders to ensure a fair and calm election this weekend when the country votes to choose a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari.

More than 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote on Saturday in what has developed into a tense, competitive race among three presidential frontrunners for the first time since military rule ended in 1999.

After two terms under Buhari, Africa's most populous nation is grappling with widespread insecurity from different armed groups, high inflation and growing poverty.

"It is vital for Nigeria's stability and democratic consolidation that the process is conducted and concluded safely, fairly and credibly," said a joint statement from the diplomatic missions of the United States, Britain, Australia, Japan, Canada and Norway.

"We encourage all actors to intervene proactively to calm any tensions and avoid any violence."

Nigeria's elections have often been marked by violence, ethnic tensions and clashes between supporters of rival parties.

The main four candidates in the presidential race signed a peace accord on Wednesday, in a bid to ensure a free and peaceful election.

"I once again ask the candidates to abide by the spirit and letter of the Accord they have signed," Buhari said.

"Let me remind all Nigerians not for the first time that this is the only country we have, and we must do everything to keep it safe, united and peaceful."

On Wednesday, a senatorial candidate for the Labour Party was killed by gunmen in southeast Enugu State, according to Labour Party officials.

- Jihadists, bandits -

Security forces are still fighting a 14-year jihadist insurgency in the country's northeast and heavily armed bandits carry out raids on villages and mass abductions in the northwest.

Offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission have also been attacked by gunmen, in violence often blamed on separatists in the country's southeast.

Three frontrunners are battling to succeed Buhari, who was first elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2019 mainly on promises he would fight insecurity and corruption.

Bola Tinubu, candidate for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and a former Lagos governor, faces old rival Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

But for the first time a surprise third candidate, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, has emerged to challenge the dominance of the PDP and APC with a message he will bring change.

Days before the election, a national shortage of cash has also angered Nigerians, as they struggle to buy food at markets and pay for transport to work.

The central bank began to exchange old naira currency bills for new redesigned ones, in what officials said was a move to curb corruption and inflation.

But a scarcity of new notes has caused huge lines at banks, violent protests in several cities and triggered tensions in the APC over how the measure may hurt its candidate.

Surveys by pan-African group Afrobarometer this month showed nine out of 10 Nigerians believe their country is heading in the wrong direction, with security and the economy their main concerns.

pma/imm