Niger will hold concurrent presidential and legislative elections Feb. 21. Although Jan. 30 marked the official start of campaigning for the presidential candidates, drama has surrounded the race for months. A string of government arrests, including those of five journalists and nine suspected coup plotters, has tested rule of law. Presidential contender Hama Amadou was seized Nov. 14 on charges of baby trafficking. His supporters subsequently joined violent demonstrations and posted a graphic photo of a dead protester on Facebook. Some commenters warned that the photo was a fake meant to smear incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou as he runs for reelection. Singer Hamsou Garba, who publicly supports Amadou, was just released after spending 10 days in jail. One of Garba’s recent songs critiqued Issoufou’s government and called for him to have the same fate of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who was voted out of office last year. She was accused of inciting civil disobedience.
In January, the Constitutional Court denied bail to Amadou while still confirming his eligibility to run for office. Amadou is now campaigning from prison via proxies. The interim head of his Moden-Fa Lumana party signed a pact with three other opposition leaders to support whichever candidate emerges as the most viable challenger to Issoufou. Amadou backed out of a similar agreement during the election of 2011 to help Issoufou rise to power with 58 percent of the vote in a run-off.
In all, there are 15 men contesting the presidency. The Constitutional Court deemed four of them “morally inept” for offenses that include chasing after married women. The pretext for investigating moral aptitude was an article in the Constitution requiring the president to be of sound body, mind and morals.