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Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan visits restive northeast ahead of election

Goodluck Jonathan has visited the northeast of his country amidst escalating Boko Haram violence. Ahead of next month's election, over one million people have fled the troubled area, possibly relinquishing their vote.

Jonathan arrived in the capital of Borno State, the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency, on Wednesday afternoon local time, according to an AFP journalist. He was accompanied by the chief of defense staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, as well as other high-ranking military officers and some 200 soldiers.

"What you're doing is not easy," he told officers at an army barracks in Maiduguri. "We thank you as a nation … We're working day and night, trying to curtail this madness," he added.

The visit is his first to the area since a state of emergency was declared in Borno, and neighboring Yobe and Adamawa states, in May 2013. It was kept top secret for security reasons, and will not include a planned stop in the remote Borno town of Chibok, where Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school in April last year.

The visit also comes on the heels of a January 3

mass murder

in the Borno town of Baga, in which hundreds - if not more - were killed. The assault is

feared to be Boko Haram's deadliest to date

.

"You will soon go back," Jonathan assured the survivors who fled Baga during the violence.

Robbed of home - and vote

Some 1.5 million people, according to an Oxfam estimate, have been displaced since Boko Haram began its mission to eradicate those unwilling to comply with Islamic sharia law in 2009. After losing loved ones, livelihoods and possessions, it appears many of the displaced will also lose their vote.

According to Nigerian electoral law, voters must cast their ballot in their home constituency, which has given rise to fears that many will be unable to participate. The electoral commission

says it is scrambling

to distribute voter ID cards to the displaced, but says there is no way to change the law to allow voters to cast their ballots elsewhere.

There are also grave doubts over whether voting will even take place in swathes of the northeast overrun by rebels. In the February 14 poll, incumbent Jonathan faces ex-military chief Muhammadu Buhari.

glb/sb (AFP, Reuters)

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