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2 Candidates Lead Field Of More Than 70 In Nigerian Presidential Election


Nigerians vote for a new president tomorrow. And they're going to have a lot of choices. There are more than 70 candidates who want the top job in Africa's most populous nation. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: In his final pre-election address to the nation last night, President Muhammadu Buhari urged Nigerians to vote their conscience on Saturday and choose wisely in peace.


PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI: This government will do its very best to ensure that the 2019 elections take place in a secure and peaceful atmosphere.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nigeria's 84 million registered voters have the choice of reelecting 76-year-old Buhari or choosing one of more than 70 other presidential challengers. They include the opposition front-runner, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, who's 72. He delivered his own final message to Nigerians.


ATIKU ABUBAKAR: Come out to vote. Shun violence. Ensure your vote counts and is counted.

QUIST-ARCTON: Atiku, as Nigerians universally call him, is a wealthy businessman and, like Buhari, a Muslim from the north. All the presidential candidates signed a pact Wednesday vowing to keep the vote peaceful in a country known for deadly election violence in the past. The U.N. special envoy for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, reminded Nigerians...


MOHAMED IBN CHAMBAS: In any election, there's going to be a winner and a loser. There is no place for incitement to violence.

QUIST-ARCTON: Personalities rather than issues have dominated this presidential race in Nigeria.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: Sitting President Buhari, a former military leader, was the first opposition candidate ever to defeat an incumbent president four years ago. Buhari is promising to take Nigeria to the next level, as his campaign pledge puts it - if he wins a second term. His supporters, like Martha Ibrahim, are trumpeting that line.

MARTHA IBRAHIM: We're voting for a leader that will stop corruption in our country. We're voting for a right leader that will make us proud in Nigeria.

QUIST-ARCTON: Buhari has been dogged by ill health while fighting rampant corruption, as he promised, as well as insecurity. Herder-farmer conflicts in central Nigeria have cost hundreds of lives while the Boko Haram insurgency continues in the Northeast. The group no longer holds territory, says political analyst and Daily Trust editor-in-chief Mannir Dan Ali, but it remains a threat.

MANNIR DAN ALI: Boko Haram, they are still able to strike through suicide bombs, also ambushes.

QUIST-ARCTON: For Buhari's main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, this is his fourth attempt to become Nigeria's president. Despite his business credentials, allegations of corruption he denies from when he was vice president continue to plague him. But Atiku is talking up Nigeria's flagging, oil-dependent economy. Supporters, like Winnie Morgan, say Atiku will be Nigeria's next president.

WINNIE MORGAN: We love the man. We want the change in this country. We are fully Atiku-lated (ph), yes.

QUIST-ARCTON: Analyst Mannir Dan Ali says for most Nigerians fixing the economy is the priority that will likely decide who wins their vote for president. He says Buhari's record is checkered.

ALI: Most Nigerians feel that they are poorer now than they were when he took over. So the economy is the most important thing.

QUIST-ARCTON: But could Atiku do better? Election results are expected by the middle of next week. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abuja.

(SOUNDBITE OF KOETT'S "LAST NIGHT ON THE RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
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.