Lagos, Nigeria (AFP):
Nigerians are rushing to pick up their voting cards for next month’s presidential election, where three major candidates are vying to replace President Muhammadu Buhari.
Nearly 10 million new voters have been registered for the February 25 ballot, of whom 84 percent are young people aged under 34.
For the first time since the end of military dictatorship in 1999, a third party candidate is presenting a real challenge to the dominance of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
With Nigeria struggling with growing insecurity, high living costs and increasing poverty, many young voters said they were more keen now to have a say about their future leader.
Crowds gathered at Lagos schools over the weekend where election officials called out names, checked off lists and handed out a coveted ID, the biometric Permanent Voting Cards or PVC.
Some would-be voters were successful but others were frustrated to be told to come back.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, known as INEC, last week extended the deadline for PVC collection by eight days.
In some states 100,000 cards were collected in just five days, it said.
Nigeria’s elections in the past have been marred by logistical delays, violence and claims of fraud and vote buying.
Election officials say 2023’s ballot will be more transparent after the introduction of electronic transfer of results and a biometric voter identification technology known as BVAS at the voting stations to stop fraud.
“This instilled confidence in our people,” Adenike Tadese, INEC head of voter eduction in Lagos said.
“I want to believe that is why our people are trooping out en masse to ensure that they come out to collect this Permanent Voting Card.”
Whoever wins the presidency faces a host of challenges from tackling insecurity across the country to reviving an economy hit hard by financial fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The security forces are fighting a 13-year-old war against armed militants.
Buhari’s APC has fielded Bola Tinubu, 70, a former governor known as the “Godfather of Lagos” for his political clout who will benefit from the ruling party’s national network.
PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, 76, is a former vice president and wealthy businessman who is on his sixth bid for the presidency.
Former state governor Labour Party’s Peter Obi, 61, has appealed to younger voters with a message that he is different from his old guard rivals and wants to bring real change to Nigeria.