Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Nigeria: Opposition Party Courts Voters

Abuja — Nigeria's new mega-opposition party, the All Progressive Congress, has won over many prominent leaders in the past few months, and now it is courting the public. With a nationwide registration drive underway, threats, name-calling and allegations of fraud already characterize Nigeria's 2015 presidential elections.

The All Progressive Congress, or APC, was formed a year ago, when several of Nigeria's opposition parties merged.

Since then, many prominent leaders, including five state governors and 37 members of the House of Representatives, have abandoned the ruling People's Democratic Party, or PDP.

Analysts said if the APC could agree on a leader, 2015 could be the first truly contested election in Nigerian history.

And now, the APC wants voters. But at APC office in the Niger Delta, about 50 people wait to sign up. They said they have been there for hours but no materials have arrived. They accused the PDP of infiltrating their party to sabotage their operations.

"You know they are looking for any means to destabilize registration - to destabilize the party. But it will not work. It will not work," Godspower Okaredhe, a local APC leader.

Other registration centers have accused the ruling party of threats and violence. Ruling party leaders denies these allegations, saying it is not their fault if some people "shun" the new opposition.

Antuyede Oyede, the editor of a local newspaper, the Isoko Sun, said the ugliness was just beginning.

"It's first an advert attacking the PDP as the corrupt party. It's because corruption is overwhelming. It's overwhelming," said Oyede.

And he said the APC was already being accused of being an Islamic party. The accusation is meant to play into tensions between the mostly-Muslim north and the mostly-Christian south.

Northerners said if President Goodluck Jonathan contested in 2015, he would be violating a power-sharing agreement that says presidents from the two regions must rotate power after two terms in office. Jonathan has served one term, but took office a year before he was elected when the former president, a northerner, died.

Prominent northerners and southerners have warned that the country will be "ungovernable" if the other region wins.

But Simeon Efenudu, a local ruling party leader in Delta state, said, despite the threats and the divisions, Nigeria would not fall apart in 2015.

"Many people thought that by now Nigeria would have disintegrated. But up 'til now it's still one country. No person really wants Nigeria to be disintegrated because they [North and South] need each other," said Efenudu.

Oyede, the editor, said north-south tensions were not what leads to wide-scale violence.

"What leads to violence is when the people have exercised their franchise and they see the decision has been trampled upon. When the result of something does not reflect the voting people will now react," he said.

After the 2011 elections, more than 800 people were killed in clashes. Last November, Nigeria's electoral commission's competency was widely questioned after it failed to produce any results at all in a race for state governor.

(Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta.)

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