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Nigerian President Faces Tough Reelection Campaign


Africa's largest democracy and economic powerhouse, Nigeria, chooses its next president tomorrow. The incumbent Goodluck Jonathan hopes he'll be re-elected. His main opposition challenger, a former military leader, positions himself as tough on security and corruption. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has more.


OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Nigeria's airwaves and television screens have been dominated by presidential campaign ads and songs like this. This one's pro-President Goodluck Jonathan. Seeking re-election, the Nigerian leader has campaigned on a platform of continuity, stability and reliability, despite criticism for failing to subdue a six-year insurgency by Boko Haram. The president says with the backing of a regional military coalition, they are making battlefield gains now against the ISIS-affiliated extremist network.


PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN: Boko Haram, I'm very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover the old territories that hitherto have been in their hands.

QUIST-ARCTON: He was asked by the BBC about the whereabouts of more than 200 missing schoolgirls abducted almost a year ago.


JONATHAN: I can't tell you where they are. We have not seen dead girls, so I believe they are still alive. I believe we will get them.


QUIST-ARCTON: Goodluck Jonathan's main opposition challenger is a former military leader, Muhammadu Buhari, who is trying for the fourth time to become president. Buhari promises to be tough on corruption and on Boko Haram, as he told NPR.


MUHAMMADU BUHARI: So this one would be to deny the terrorist facilities across border, of training, of movement, of weapons and any type of logistics abroad.

QUIST-ARCTON: The presidential race is being billed as the most competitive in Nigeria's history. Leading candidates, regional and global leaders, including President Obama, are all calling for peaceful and transparent elections. The U.N. Secretary-General's special representative for West Africa is Mohammed Ibn Chambas.

MOHAMMED IBN CHAMBAS: We need Nigeria to come out of this elections strong, with a legitimate government, and united so that we can all support Nigeria and the neighboring countries in the fight against Boko Haram, which is a real threat to the country and to the subregion.

QUIST-ARCTON: The head of Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, echoes those concerns. But he says a neck-and-neck election is a hopeful sign of a growing democracy.

CHIDI ODINKALU: Ironically, close competition is progress. It's the first time that the contest is close, and credibly so. But if election-related violence in Nigeria is significant, the country is imperiled. And if Nigeria is imperiled, the region is imperiled.

QUIST-ARCTON: It's up to Nigeria's voters to decide tomorrow which leader becomes president. Juliet Ijeoma Uche-Okoro (ph) is a government worker.

IJEOMA UCHE-OKORO: I'll be voting for continuity, you know? We like what is happening in Nigeria now, and we pray that it will continue to be so.

QUIST-ARCTON: Emmanuel Victor (ph) is leading towards the opposition.

EMMANUEL VICTOR: I'm voting (unintelligible) Muhammadu Buhari for change. I voted for Goodluck Jonathan 2011. It has not gotten me anywhere. We need change to move this nation forward.

QUIST-ARCTON: So continuity or change? Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abuja. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.