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Nigeria braced for tense election countdown

Nigeria goes to the polls this weekend. President Goodluck Jonathan (right) is pitted against ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari (left) in a nation troubled by chronic insurgency and fears of political violence.

Nigeria - Africa's biggest economy and oil producer - stepped up security in its capital Abuja on Monday, deploying soldiers and putting up barricades before Saturday's election.

DW's correspondent in Abuja, Ben Shemang, said soldiers, police and even plainclothes security operatives were to be seen at the barricades. "Sometimes they do stop-and-search," he said.

A spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan's ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the government "needs to give citizens a sense of protection."

But political analyst Anselm Okolo told the German news agency dpa there was no reason for the deployment of soldiers "other than intimidation of opponents of President Jonathan."

Officials have expressed concern over security on polling day, March 28, and the inability of the military to keep the polls safe was one reason cited for postponing the vote, which was originally scheduled for February 14.

Washington Obama PK

Obama called on Nigerians 'to reject the voices of those who call for violence'

The Nigerian military may have been claiming gains over the Boko Haram jihadists, but the extremists remain a challenge to the poll and the country. 13,000 people have died in the insurgency since 2009.

Nnamdi Obasi from the International Crisis Group told the news agency AFP Boko Haram may not be able to seize new territory, but they could certainly still send suicide bombers to public places, including polling centers.

White House appeal for peaceful poll

As well as the threat of terrorist attacks, there are also concerns over politically motivated violence.

US President Barack Obama described the vote as a "historic opportunity" for progress in Africa's most populous country. I call on all Nigerians to peacefully express your views and to reject the voices of those who call for violence," Obama said in a video message addressed to the Nigerian people and posted on the White House website.

Fears of unrest have risen in the run-up to the elections with leaders of both the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) using inflammatory rhetoric, AFP reported.

Isolated clashes between rival camps have been recorded nationwide during the campaign and there is concern that a close or contested result could spark further unrest.

Nigeria Wahlkommision verschiebt Wahltermin Attahiru Jega

Attahiru Jega: 'everything humanly possible' for a free, peaceful vote

Nearly 1,000 people were killed in clashes in the Nigerian elections in 2011.

The head of the country's Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) Attahiru Jega said that "everything humanly possible" had been done to ensure a free, fair and peaceful vote.

Jega has been under pressure over his organization's preparations for the poll, particularly from Goodluck Jonathan's PDP.

The PDP has criticized the rate of distribution of biometric voter ID cards, the technology employed to read them, and the ability of election volunteers to use the devices.

Muhammadu Buhari's APC, on the other hand, senses there is a plot to revert to the old paper system under which ballot rigging could be easier.

Voter registration

INEC spokesperson Nick Dazang rejected the criticism of the card distribution. "Thankfully, we have reached the point where more than 80 percent of Nigerians have collected the permanent voters' cards," he said in a reference to the biometric ID cards on Monday.

Tschad Fahne Soldaten Kampf gegen Boko Haram Nigeria

Armies from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger have launched an offensive to end Boko Haram's six-year insurgency

But Abdullahi Jalo, a spokesperson for PDP said that in Adamawa, Zamfara, Ogun and other states "the INEC has reached 65 to 67 percent coverage."

Nigeria consists of 36 states and a federal capital territory, Abuja.

Close to 69 million of the 173 million Nigerians are registered to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections, which will be followed by state assembly and gubernatorial polls on April 11.

The Boko Haram insurgency was one challenge referred to by the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's when it downgraded Nigeria from BB- to B+ last week. The agency also cited falling oil prices and said that the "tightly contested general elections may pose risks to Nigeria's external position and the implementation of what we view as the government's ambitious fiscal consolidation plans."

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