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Nigeria is holding presidential elections on Saturday, six weeks after the original voting date was postponed due to security concerns.
Since then, a military offensive by Nigeria and neighboring countries Chad, Niger and Cameroon has pushed Boko Haram militants out of large part of the conflict-torn border region, the Nigerian government said.
Yet thousands of Nigerians will still not be able to vote in the election, a tense and seemingly close race between current President Goodluck Jonathan and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.
Many of the displaced won’t be able to take part in the election, despite Nigeria’s efforts to set up extra polling stations to cope with the refugees. Voters must cast ballots in their home state, a policy that will exclude thousands who have fled to another of Nigeria’s 36 states, as well over 200,000 refugees sheltering in other countries. Many of them are too afraid to return home.
Officials said they cannot risk setting up polling booths in areas recently recaptured from Boko Haram. Illustrating the fragility of Nigeria’s military gains, the Associated Press reported that two towns have already changed hands twice since the offensive began.
Confidence in the elections is low. A 2014 Gallup poll found that just 13 percent of Nigerians have confidence in the elections, down from 51 percent in 2011.
The threat of terror attacks and sectarian violence looms over Saturday’s vote. Boko Haram rejects democracy and has threatened to disrupt the polls. “Its fighters may not be able to seize new territory but they could certainly still send suicide bombers to public places, including polling centres,” Nnamdi Obasi, senior researcher at the International Crisis Group, told Agence France Presse.
The head of the Nigerian electoral commission, Attahiru Jega, has insisted that the postponement has helped Nigeria better prepare for a successful election. “We believe we have done everything humanly possible to be able to conduct elections that are free, fair, credible and peaceful,” he told reporters ahead of the vote.