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Nigeria’s two main presidential candidates, Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, are intensifying their efforts to convince voters, with one month to go to polling in Africa’s most populous nation.
President Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress party (APC) and Atiku of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) both staged set-piece meetings to secure the support of a record 84 million registered voters at the ballot on February 16.
Concerns about electoral fraud are also high, with both the ruling and main opposition party accused of widespread vote-buying at recent gubernatorial polls.
In the past week, the government has faced claims it is trying to manipulate the judiciary after the country’s most senior judge was charged with non-disclosure of assets.
That has triggered concerns he could be replaced with a more sympathetic nominee, who could rule over any disputed result.
Buhari, Atiku and other presidential candidates have been pencilled in to face off in a televised debate this weekend, as campaigning steps up a gear.
But on Wednesday Buhari made a rare appearance at a live question and answer session, at which he pointedly rejected concerns he was too old and too ill to seek a second term.
The 76-year-old former army general, who headed a military government in the 1980s, last year underwent months of treatment in London for an undisclosed illness.
Before the last election four years ago, he was forced to deny claims from the then-ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that he was terminally ill with prostate cancer.
Asked whether he was fit enough to withstand another four years in office, he said only: “I think we have made our case.”
“Let’s see whether I’m fit or not,” he added.
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The wealthy 72-year-old businessman, who was president Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy from 1999 to 2007, has been seen as the more business-friendly candidate.
I don’t think he’s pursued the right policies,” he was quoted as saying of Emefiele. Buhari’s stewardship of the economy, meanwhile, had been “clueless”, he added.
Earlier he vowed to “liberalise the economy to create jobs” in Nigeria, where despite being Africa’s leading oil producer, most of the more than 180 million people are poor.
High unemployment has been a persistent problem, particularly among the young.
Atiku also said he was committed to privatising state-run companies such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC).“I swear even if they are going to kill me, I will do it,” he said, characterising them as ‘mafia organisations’.
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