As if things could hardly be worse, a bomb was detonated this week within a hair of striking President Goodluck Jonathan who had just appeared at a campaign rally in northern Nigeria.
The northern region is the unofficial headquarters of Boko Haram, the insurgent group that got its start in 2009 seeking isolation from corruption. The assassination by police of their leader sparked a turn to militancy and finally terrorism, with the kidnapping high school students, setting off of bombs and most recently using a 12 year old girl as a suicide bomber.
Fighting between Boko Haram mililtants and the Nigerian army went into overdrive over the weekend. At least 500 Boko Haram fighters were killedSunday and many civilians also lost their lives, a reporter for the Voice of America reported.
Neighboring Chad also had operatives in the country under the Africa Union agreement for member states to help Nigeria. The AU has agreed to send 7,500 troops against the well- armed group.
The fighting has intensified with just weeks before the Feb. 14 presidential elections and Feb. 28 polls for governors and state assembly seats.
In an interview with the Voice of America, Major General Chris Olukolade pledged to keep the northern region safe from terrorists. “The mission is on,” he said. “There is no allowing terrorists anywhere. As many times as they come, it will only give us the opportunity to decimate them.”
Due to the nation’s still-unsuccessful effort against Boko Haram, more than a million people have been displaced from their homes and some 10,000 people were killed in the past year alone, according to the NY-based Council on Foreign Relations.
With thousands of Nigerians displaced by fighting, some have called for postponement or cancellation of the polls.
Former governor of Kaduna State, Mr Balarabe Musa, urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the voting exercise on grounds of insecurity and the inability of a large number of Nigerians to collect their Permanent Voter Cards.
“The manner with which the two principal parties are going about their campaigns is giving bad signals,” he said, (throwing doubt) that elections will be peaceful, free and fair.”
But “Babatunde” writing on the website of the Nigerian ChannelsTV disagreed. “When will Mr. Musa want the election held? Or we should never again conduct election because we are afraid there will be violence? May be we should just consult the oracle of violence when he is going on vacation before we can hold any election in Nigeria.”
U.S. Secy of State John Kerry, after a meeting in Nigeria, also gave his blessing to the Feb. 14 poll. “Given the stakes it’s absolutely critical that these elections are conducted peacefully,” Kerry told reporters in the commercial capital Lagos after meeting President Goodluck Jonathan and main opposition rival Muhammadu Buhari.
In the last election in 2011, when Buhari lost to Jonathan, three days of rioting killed more than 800 people and displaced 65,000.
“Nobody gains by violence, nobody gains by turning a political disagreement into a killing spree … The proof will be in the actions that are taken in the course of the election and afterwards,” Kerry said.
Meanwhile, a court will hear a petition on Feb. 9 to disqualify the major opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress for, among other reasons, failing to provide evidence of his birth certificate and educational qualifications as required.