As Nigeria Votes, The Specter Of Boko Haram Hangs Over The Election : Parallels Nigerians pick their president on Saturday. For election officials, the challenges include providing ballots for the many voters displaced by Boko Haram attacks.
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As Nigeria Votes, The Specter Of Boko Haram Hangs Over The Election

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As Nigeria Votes, The Specter Of Boko Haram Hangs Over The Election

As Nigeria Votes, The Specter Of Boko Haram Hangs Over The Election

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For all the lives touched by the Germanwings tragedy, this next story affects even more. Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, holds a presidential election this weekend. Nigerians will choose a leader in a time of war. Nigeria faces the Boko Haram insurgency. The war has displaced more than a million people, and the group has linked itself to the so-called Islamic State. The vote has already been delayed since February, partly due to insecurity. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports on whether the nation is ready.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: In the past six weeks, the extremist group Boko Haram has been pushed out of a huge zone in the northeast by Nigerian forces backed by troops from neighboring countries. In the past six years, Boko Haram has terrorized the region, killing thousands of people and abducting many more, including more than 200 missing schoolgirls. The people driven from their homes are posing a challenge for Nigeria's electoral commission. The U.N. secretary-general's special representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, says displaced people must be allowed to vote.

MOHAMED IBN CHAMBAS: I got the assurance of the electoral commissioner that all efforts will be made to ensure that Nigerians internally displaced as a result of Boko Haram terrorist activity are not denied their franchise.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nigeria is also grappling with a new biometric voter card-reading system, which had hiccups during dry runs ahead of Saturday's vote. Electoral commission spokesman Kayode Idowu says biometric voting is the safest way to minimize multiple registration and attempts at vote rigging. But some Nigerians are a little nervous about the new card readers and how they'll work on the day. Rest assured, says the spokesman.

KAYODE IDOWU: What the commission has done now is to bring in a card reader that will read the embedded chip on election day and then cross-match the person who brings the permanent voter card to the polling unit with the data that is in the embedded chip.

QUIST-ARCTON: Idowu says they're ready for this closely-contested vote and the phenomenal, logistical challenge of putting everything in place on time.

IDOWU: Yeah, there are areas of the country we have to approach by donkey or camel or bicycle, by footpath. There are remote areas like that. And we'll get to all those areas. Before now, they never saw the color of a ballot box or ballot paper before. But now, they cast their votes there.

QUIST-ARCTON: Yesterday, President Goodluck Jonathan, who's seeking reelection, and his main opposition challenger and former military leader, Muhammadu Buhari, renewed their pledge for a peaceful vote. This week, President Barack Obama sent a video message of solidarity to Nigerians, urging them to hold free, fair and credible elections. The U.S. is a key Western ally.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So I call on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections and that they will not incite, support or engage in any kind of violence before, during or after the votes are counted.

QUIST-ARCTON: But Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, who chairs the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria, warns that the specter of violence which has hovered over so many previous elections remains a threat.

CHIDI ANSELM ODINKALU: These are the most competitive elections in Nigeria's history. And they've also been accompanied by the most extraordinary form of hate speech, ethnic baiting. We documented 61 incidents with 58 killings. And they span all the geopolitical - six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Now, that's entirely unprecedented.

QUIST-ARCTON: Odinkalu says political leaders must tamp down the violence. Many Nigerians, like 24-year-old businesswoman Genevieve Edeh, are hoping for a smooth presidential election tomorrow.

GENEVIEVE EDEH: I just pray to God to help us find the best leader, whoever, that will lead Nigeria and make Nigeria peaceful.

QUIST-ARCTON: And especially peace once the results are announced and a presidential winner declared. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abuja.

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