It’s election season in Nigeria and a record number of voters were registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which can be interpreted as an indicator of how high the stakes are in the forthcoming Presidential, Senatorial and Legislative elections.
The presidential election where incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari is contesting for a second term in office, is particularly heated, characterised by questions of credibility and perceived electoral injustices.
Last week, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) halted its campaign,protesting Buhari’s decision to suspend the country’s chief justice who is accused of breaching asset-declaration rules.
Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, who heads the Supreme Court, would have ruled on any legal challenge to the result.
Buhari has repeatedly vowed to deliver a credible election, even as his All Progressives Congress party (APC) and PDP accuse each other of plotting election fraud.
Both the PDP and APC were accused of vote-buying in recent governorship elections.
The United States and Britain, key allies of the West African nation have threatened to deny visas to anyone involved in vote-rigging or election violence.
Hopes for a peaceful and credible election are just one of many issues that have dominated the campaigns and aspirations of Nigerians ahead of the February 16 election.
Just like the 2015 elections where Buhari made history and the first opposition candidate to unseat an incumbent president, corruption, insecurity and the economy are the key issues likely to influence voters’ decisions.
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While Buhari tackled corruption in his first term, particularly through the single treasury account that he claims has reduced leakages in the country’s finances, his government has been accused of embarking on a political witch-hunt of his rivals, in the name of fighting corruption.
Indeed, when campaigns were launched, Buhari emphasised that he needed another mandate to consolidate the groundwork already laid in his fight against corruption, revival of the economy and the struggle to secure Nigerians against terrorists and internal security threats.
Buhari’s main rival in this presidential election, PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, has chosen to focus on Buhari’s failings as far as reviving the economy for the benefit of Nigerians.
“If the state of the average Nigerian has not improved in the last three and a half years, more of the same is obviously not what they need,” Atiku’s camp said in response to Buhari’s appeal for a second term.
In his bid to diversify the economy and create much needed jobs for Nigeria’s massive youth population, Atiku says he will introduce bidding rounds for marginal fields and oil blocks, privatise government-owned refineries and issue new licences for greenfield investments in crude refineries.
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As Amazon burns, Brazil’s Bolsonaro tells rest of world not to interfere
Amid growing international criticism over the wildfires raging through the Amazon, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday admitted farmers could be illegally setting the rainforest ablaze but told foreign powers not to interfere.
French President Emmanuel Macron and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres both took to Twitter to express concern about the fires that have reached a record number this year, devastating vast swathes of forest considered a vital bulwark against climate change.
Bolsonaro responded angrily to what he regarded as meddling.
“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity. … They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty,” he said in a Facebook Live broadcast.
But earlier on Thursday, he said that Brazil alone lacked the resources to control the fires.
“The Amazon is bigger than Europe, how will you fight criminal fires in such an area?” he asked reporters as he left the presidential residence. “We do not have the resources for that.”
Fires in the Amazon have surged 83% so far this year compared with the same period a year earlier, government figures show.
Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence during the dry season at this time of year, environmentalists blamed the sharp rise on farmers setting the forest alight to clear land for pasture.
Farmers may have had at least tacit encouragement from the firebrand right-wing president, who took power in January. Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he believes Brazil should open the Amazon up to business interests, to allow mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.
On Wednesday, he blamed non-governmental organizations for setting the fires, without providing evidence. He appeared to row back on Thursday, when he said for the first time that farmers could be behind the fires.
Ghana draws African-American tourists with ‘Year of Return
US preacher Roxanne Caleb blinked away the tears as she emerged from a pitch-dark dungeon where African slaves were once held before being shipped across the Atlantic to America.
“I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m heartbroken,” she told AFP as she toured the Cape Coast slave fort on Ghana’s ocean shore.
“My mind still can’t wrap around the fact that a human being can treat another worse than a rat.”
Caleb is among the African-American visitors flocking to Ghana as it marks the “Year of Return” to remember the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in Virginia.
The West African nation is banking on the commemorations to give a major boost to the number of tourist arrivals as it encourages the descendants of slaves to “come home”.
Cape Coast Castle, 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the capital Accra, is a major magnet for those visiting
The white-washed fort lined with cannons was one of dozens of prisons studding the Atlantic coast where slaves were held before their journey to the New World.
A string of prominent African-Americans have headed to the site this year to mark the anniversary since the first slave landing in 1619.
Among them was a delegation of Congressional Black Caucus led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that toured last month.
– ‘Can’t forget history’ –
For those visiting it is an emotional rite of passage.
“This has been understanding my history and my roots where I came from,” Caleb said.
“I am very thankful I came here as part of the Year of Return.”
Sampson Nii Addy, a corrections officer with the Montgomery police department in Alabama, said he and his family had found the tour an “education”.
“I think every black person needs to come around to learn history; how people were treated,” the 52-year-old told AFP.
“We can’t forget history but we can always learn something from it.”
Ghana, one of the continent’s most stable democracies, has long pitched itself as a destination for African-Americans to explore their heritage and even settle permanently.
In 2009 President Barack Obama visited with his family and paid homage at the Cape Coast Castle.
The “Year of Return” has added fresh impetus and the country is hoping it will increase visitor numbers from 350,000 in 2018 to 500,000 this year, including 45,000 African-Americans.
Kojo Keelson has spent nine years guiding tour groups around the Cape Coast Castle and says 2019 has seen a surge in interest as Ghana looks to rake in tourism revenue of $925 million (830 million euros).
“It’s like a pilgrimage. This year we’ve a lot more African-Americans coming through than the previous year,” he told AFP.
“I’m urging all of them to come home and experience and reconnect to the motherland.”
– ‘Love to come again’ –
Akwasi Awua Ababio, the official coordinating “Year of Return” events, pointed to high hotel occupancy rates as he said “enthusiasm is very high and we’ve got huge numbers coming from the US and Caribbean”.
He insisted that beyond the major economic boost, Ghana was also looking to use the new connections it is forging to convince the descendants of slaves to resettle for good and help the country develop.
“Human resource is always an asset and we need to see how we can welcome them home to utilise their expertise and networks,” the director for diaspora affairs at the presidency said.
The African American Association of Ghana brings together those who have moved to West Africa and offers help to integrate them into their new surroundings.
President Gail Nikoi praised the “Year of Return” initiative by Ghanaian leader Nana Akufo-Addo and said the country was “setting the stage for future engagements and involvement of African-Americans and other Africans from the diaspora in the development of this country.”
But she said the authorities could still be doing more to help attract arrivals and convince them to stay.
“Dialogue and engagement is the first step,” she said.
While most of those visiting Cape Coast were not thinking about settling back permanently — they said the trip had opened their eyes to both their own history and what Ghana has to offer.
“It has broadened my horizons about how we came to be here and what our ancestors went through,” said William Shaw, 57, from Montgomery.
“I would love to come again. There is a lot more to see here in Ghana… at least once in a year I’d advise African-Americans to come back to their native land and learn about their history.”
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