Thursday, March 26, 2015

Nigeria: Borders closed over security concerns ahead of Saturday's elections

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered the closure of the country's land and sea borders ahead of this weekend's general election, the interior ministry said Wednesday.

The closure will take effect from midnight on March 25 until the same time March 28, after polling closes for presidential and parliamentary elections.

"President Goodluck Jonathan has approved the closure of all Nigeria's land and sea borders ... to allow for peaceful conduct of the forthcoming national elections," permanent secretary at the ministry Abubakar Magaji said in an emailed statement.

On Tuesday, Nigeria's federal police chief ordered the "total restriction" of vehicles between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on election day, apart from the emergency services and others on "essential duties.”

Nigeria is bordered by Benin to the west, Cameroon to the east and also had borders with Chad and Niger in the north.

Security is always a major issue at Nigerian elections, with politically linked violence often flaring between supporters of rival parties. Concern is especially high this year due to an increase in violent attacks on civilians by the armed group Boko Haram.

In the last elections in 2011, about 1,000 people were killed in clashes, mostly in the country’s violent north, after Jonathan beat opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari for the presidency.

The two men are again contesting this year's election, with many predicting that the vote — delayed for six weeks because of military operations against Boko Haram — is too close to call.

Nigeria watchers expect the results of the election to be a challenge for authorities.

“Victory by either candidate will certainly throw up new security challenges,” wrote Nnamdi Obasi, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “The main candidates and many of their supporters strongly reject even the possibility that they could lose.”

The threat posed by Boko Haram is far greater to the country this time around, and as a result of their insurgency against the central government, thousands of Nigerians have fled the country to neighboring countries, mostly from Nigeria’s north where Boko Haram has its power base.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Wednesday that more than 74,000 people had fled to Cameroon, with another more than 100,000 having left for Chad and Niger.

The U.N.'s refugee agency says the crisis is one of the most underfunded in the world. In February, the agency asked for $71 million to assist displaced people in Nigeria and the neighboring countries; already that figure appears to be too low, it said this week. Thus far, it has received only $6.8 million in donations.

Nigerian, Chadian and Niger forces have driven Boko Haram fighters out of a string of towns in simultaneous offensives over the past month in a sign that the government may be gaining some ground against the group. Nigeria says all but three of the 20 local government areas occupied at the beginning of the year have been freed.

But in a sign of the group’s still very potent capabilities in the country, a government official said Wednesday that Boko Haram had kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian civilians, many of whom were children, earlier this month.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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