Tujja Masa won’t dare vote in Nigeria’s presidential election next month. The 50-year-old farmer is one of the hundreds of thousands who’ve fled their northeastern villages to escape gun and bomb attacks by Islamist militants. Raids last week were said to have killed hundreds of people in the town of Baga, while a girl as young as 10 detonated explosives at a market in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. The self-declared leader of the Islamist Boko Haram group, Abubakar Shekau, has likened democracy to homosexuality and incest in video messages. “I am really afraid of election day,” Masa said in Maiduguri, the city in which he’s sheltering with relatives after running away from Krenoa, his village in the north of Borno state. “Honestly we are praying for God to come to our aid and have hitch-free elections, but I will not go there.” Nigeria, home to Africa’s biggest economy, oil industry and population, is stumbling toward general elections in the face of worsening violence by the Islamist group, Boko Haram, and the introduction of a biometric voter-card system designed to end ballot stuffing and fraud.
More than 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) south of Maiduguri in Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, Osaze Osahon battled the bureaucracy of the nation’s electoral commission after surviving an armed robbery attempt during his four-hour ride to get his voter’s card. The 27-year-old business student watched officials at Nigeria’s election agency turn away dozens at the local government office in Lagos’s Igbo-Efon district.
“So many people have not gotten that card and the way they are stressing people, they don’t seem to be interested in giving them out,” Osahon said, sitting on a wobbly bench outside the cramped office. “How can you travel from so far, and then they tell you to come back tomorrow?”
Accusations of vote rigging may lead to widespread violence in a country of more than 170 million divided between a mostly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south. Hundreds died in rioting in the north after President Goodluck Jonathan, a 57-year-old Christian from the south, defeated former military ruler and Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari, 72. The two are squaring off again in a Feb. 14 vote.