Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, formally began his campaign for re-election on Thursday, taking the fight to a key opposition stronghold with a mass rally.
All roads to the venue on Lagos Island were cordoned off and armed soldiers and police searched the crowds, many of them dressed in the red, white and green of Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic party (PDP).
The vote is due to go ahead on 14 February but there are fears that polling could be ruled out in swaths of the country’s north-east because of sustained violence by Boko Haram militants. The national electoral body has said there are no plans to postpone.
Jonathan, a 57-year-old southern Christian, is pushing for a second four-year term, calling for more time to build on his first and complete his “transformation agenda”. Two-page advertisements in national newspapers on Thursday proclaimed: “Goodwork in progress … Vote goodwork … vote Goodluck.”
The main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) has denounced Jonathan’s presidency as a failure, highlighting his inability to end the Islamist insurgency and tackle endemic corruption. Nigeria is also reeling from a fall in global crude prices that has forced a revision of the 2015 budget estimates and a devaluation of the currency against the US dollar.
“Under his watch, Nigeria has become No 1 in broken promises,” read one advertisement supporting the APC candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler.
On Wednesday Jonathan’s campaign chief, Femi Fani-Kayode, described Buhari as a “great danger” for the unity of the country. He said the 72-year-old from the Muslim-majority north, who is standing for the presidency for the fourth time since 1999, “represents a return to an ugly past which is best forgotten”.
Fani-Kayode also questioned Buhari’s democratic credentials and described his record in public office as “shameful and disastrous”. Buhari ousted the civilian president Shehu Shagari in a military coup in 1983 and his 18-month rule was characterised by a hardline stance on corruption.
“We do not believe that Nigeria ought to be run by a man that is not capable of tolerating dissent or by a political party like the APC that has no sense of remorse, restraint or decency,” Fani-Kayode said.
The APC, a coalition of opposition parties, is seen as having its best chance of winning power since Nigeria returned to civilian rule 16 years ago. It said the PDP was running scared. “The real danger to democracy in Nigeria is Jonathan,” said the party’s spokesman Lai Mohammed. “Before he came into office in 2010, Nigeria was a united country. But it is no more now.
“[Buhari] is also a good party man. The orgy of violence, armed robbery, killings, kidnappings and other forms of crime under Jonathan’s watch is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. We have more than 20,000 sq km of our land now occupied by Boko Haram.”
The opposition has previously denounced a secret police raid on its Lagos offices and the teargassing of opposition MPs outside parliament last year as politically motivated. This week the APC claimed that Buhari supporters were shot as they made their way to a rally in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt on Tuesday.