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Jonathan faces old rival Buhari in Nigeria presidential poll

Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP

Nigerians face a familiar choice between incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and 2011 runner-up Muhammadu Buhari when they head to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president.

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Jonathan, 57, is running for another four years as head of Africa's most populous country.

His main rival, whom he defeated four years ago, is having a fourth shot at the presidency since democracy was restored in 1999.

While Jonathan secured a comfortable win in 2011, with 59 percent of the vote, analysts say this time the election is too close to call.

A former zoology professor, Jonathan became president in 2010 after the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar'Adua.

His spell in office has been marked by the rise of militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has overrun vast swathes of northeastern Nigeria, killing more than 13,000 people and leaving some 1.5 million homeless.

Jonathan, who hails from the country’s mainly Christian south, has been accused of dragging his feet in the face of the worsening insurgency in the Muslim north.

The Nigerian president is also blamed for failing to tackle endemic corruption in the oil-rich country.

The vast majority of Nigeria's 173 million people live on less than two dollars a day while oil profits have gone to a privileged few.

But in a country with significant ethnic and religious faultlines, it is no surprise that Jonathan still enjoys strong support among southerners.

Security fears

Nor is it surprising that his main rival, 72-year-old Buhari, is a Muslim from the north.

A southerner has occupied the presidential villa for 13 of the past 16 years, and many northerners believe it is their turn to control the presidency.

A former army general, Buhari headed a military government in the 1980s, when he earned a reputation for his tough stance against nepotism and fraud.

As in previous campaigns, Buhari has placed the fight against corruption at the heart of his political platform.

But critics have cast doubt on the former general’s ability to steer Africa's top economy.

Should he lose again, Buhari's reaction will be crucial in a country often hit by post-election violence.

Four years ago, his defeat at Jonathan’s hands triggered a wave of clashes in which some 1,000 were killed.

Security forces have been placed on high alert ahead of Saturday's vote, which was delayed by six weeks after the military warned it could not guarantee security in areas threatened by Boko Haram insurgents.

 

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