Nigerian vote tough to call as week-long delay may hurt turnout
* People struggle to afford to travel again to vote Feb. 23
* Turnout at presidential elections has declined steadily
* Voters disenchanted by a corrupt political class
* Petrol price cut to encourage voters to travel
By Abraham Achirga and Paul Carsten
YOLA, Nigeria/ABUJA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Nigerian teacher
Benjamin Shagu flew 500 km (310 miles) from the east of the
country to the capital, Abuja, to vote in the presidential
election - only for the vote to be delayed for a week, just five
hours before polls had been due to open.
"I have left my students for a week. I can't leave them for
another week," said the English teacher - who travelled from the
eastern city of Yola - weighing up the expense and disruption in
returning to the city in which he registered to vote.
Many of the country's 72.8 million eligible voters, having
spent considerable sums of money on travel, face the same
The delay to the election, now scheduled for Saturday, could
depress turnout, according to politicians and civil society
groups. That in turn would reduce the mandate of the eventual
winner to rule Africa's most populous country and its biggest
The two main candidates - President Muhammadu Buhari and
former Vice President Atiku Abubakar - are also both over 70
years old and have failed to generate significant excitement
from a relatively youthful population.
"It disadvantages us because we need the turnout. Our base
is the youth population, and they're the ones who can just
easily get turned off from the whole process," Bukola Saraki,
director general of Atiku's campaign, told Reuters in an
"The momentum was on our side," he said.
Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based think tank Centre
for Democracy and Development, also said the delay would likely
His supporters had been galvanised in the last two elections
with a high turnout in his core base in the northwest, she said,
the region with the highest number of registered voters.
The main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP)
typically attracts more support in the southeast, a region
where turnout has historically been low, she said.
Yusuf Tuggar, a campaign team member of the ruling All
Progressives Congress, said his party would be hit harder
because many of its northern supporters live in the south and
could not afford to travel home.
"It hurts us more because we have more supporters," he said.
VOTER TURNOUT DECLINE
Turnout in presidential elections has declined steadily
since 2003 from nearly 70 percent to just 44 percent in 2015.
That is largely because of growing disenchantment with a
political class seen as corrupt and out of touch with a
population that includes a high proportion of people living in
Hassan said that, irrespective of the outcome, lower voter
numbers would be dangerous for the winner.
"Sooner or later many people will question the legitimacy of
elected representatives, especially when they have not
participated in the process," said Hassan.
Such concerns have led to the announcement of measures aimed
at boosting turnout.
The interior ministry said Friday would be a public holiday,
to give people time to travel to the polls, while fuel suppliers
cut the price of petrol and a trade union that operates bus
routes nationwide agreed to provide discounts for trips to
The hope was that people would overcome the difficulties
involved in making a second trek to the polls.
"I need to travel to perform my citizenship of Nigeria,"
said student Francisca Esidoy as she boarded a bus in the
northern city of Kano, where she lives, to make the 970
kilometre (600 miles) journey to her southeastern home state of
But others could not be enticed.
Brauna Afraimu, 41, a civil servant based in Yola, said he
was too disillusioned to make the 440 kilometre journey to
nearby Bauchi state. "All these things will not motivate me to
go and vote. I've already spent a lot of my resources and time
last week," he said.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Ross and Alexis Akwagyiram in
Abuja, Percy Dabang in Yola, Kazeem Sanni in Kano; Writing by
Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by James Macharia and Hugh Lawson)
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