Nigeria’s main opposition candidate declared Tuesday that the military “has no role to play” in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
Atiku Abubakar spoke on national television a day after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered Nigeria’s armed forces to be “ruthless” with anyone who interferes in the polls.
Buhari warned that anyone who meddles in the voting process “will do so at the expense of his own life,” eliciting praise from members of his ruling All Progressives Congress party.
Nigeria’s elections were initially planned for last Saturday but officials, citing logistical issues, abruptly delayed them one week just hours before the polls were set to open.
Election campaigns, which were halted and have since resumed, have been marred by acts of violence, further raising political tensions in Africa’s most populous country.
Some 84 million Nigerians are registered to vote and turnout is expected to be high for Saturday’s elections. The presidential contest is widely seen as a tight race between President Buhari and Abubakar, a former vice president who vows to “get Nigeria working again.”
After ruling briefly as a military dictator in the 1980’s, Buhari won the 2015 election, becoming the first opposition candidate to defeat a sitting president.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke with both leading presidential candidates, and welcomed their signing of a public commitment to renounce violence. He said the U.S. supports “the Nigerian goal of free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections that reflect the will of the Nigerian people.”