Nigerian president's campaign finale draws thousands

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 26, 2011 10:45 AM
Nigerian president's campaign finale draws thousands

By Joe Brock

ABUJA (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan were bussed to a square in the capital Abuja on Saturday for his final campaign rally before a presidential election in two weeks' time.

Large inflatable balloons of Jonathan dressed in his traditional kaftan floated over Eagle Square as state governors and officials from the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) lined up to deliver speeches in praise of him.

Security forces set up metal detectors around the square and police helicopters buzzed overhead to try to control the crowds, packed into grandstands and dressed in PDP T-shirts and hats handed out as they arrived.

"In you President Goodluck Jonathan we have our own Barack Obama," said Godswill Akpabio, governor of the southeastern state of Akwa Ibom, to cheers.

There was little mention of policy during hours of speeches.

Jonathan, the first president from the southern Niger Delta, is widely considered to be the front runner in the April 9 election, although his main challenger former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner, is hoping to force a run-off.

The PDP has dominated Nigerian politics since the end of military rule 12 years ago, winning every presidential race since then. It controls around two thirds of the 36 states and commands a strong majority in parliament.

To win in the first round, Jonathan needs to secure 25 percent of the vote in at least two thirds of the states, or else he will face a run-off with his nearest rival.

Buhari -- a disciplinarian who ruled between December 1983 and August 1985 and is best remembered for his "War Against Indiscipline," a campaign against corruption -- is expected to win strong support in parts of the north.

A poll published this week by the This Day newspaper carried out with global research group Ipsos showed just over 60 percent of respondents would vote for Jonathan, with Buhari on 22 percent.

Diplomats say they are hoping that this year's election will be a marked improvement on previous polls in Africa's most populous nation, which observers said were not credible because of ballot-stuffing and fraud.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has registered more than 70 million voters on a new electoral roll, replacing a register from the last elections in 2007 which included fictitious names and omitted legitimate voters.

But diplomats say they fear that with just two police officers due to guard some polling stations, unrest and ballot stuffing on voting day could recur.

Nigeria holds a parliamentary poll on April 2, where the PDP is expected to lose some of its majority, and state governorship elections on April 16, a week after the presidential race, where it is also expected to lose some of its regional strength.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Elizabeth Piper)