March 27, 2015 / 11:20 AM / 2 years ago

Nigeria president warns against bloodshed ahead of Saturday poll

Policemen walk in front of posters of candidates of Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan People's Democratic Party in Kano, March 26, 2015.Goran Tomasevic

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan warned against violence ahead of Saturday's presidential election as people stockpiled food, cash and fuel for fear of post-election clashes.

Jonathan will face former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari in what is seen as the closest presidential race since the end of military rule in 1999.

In a broadcast to the nation on Friday, Jonathan said no political ambition could justify violence or bloodshed, adding that security measures had been taken to guarantee a free and fair election.

"Let me warn, however, that as President, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, I am under oath to protect the lives of all Nigerians and the security of our country at all times. I will never abdicate my responsibilities in that regard," he said.

"Those who may harbor any intentions of testing our will by unleashing violence during the elections in order to advance their political ambitions should think again," Jonathan said.

He added that security agencies were ready to deal with anyone who tried to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the elections or cause public disorder in Africa's top oil producer and biggest economy.

"We sincerely hope the president means those words and will allow the will of the people to prevail, irrespective of the outcome of the elections," the opposition All Progressives Congress said in a statement.

APC spokesman Alhaji Lai Mohammed added: "All the devilish moves by those who are bent on rigging the elections and plunging the nation into crisis are being closely monitored."

Around 800 people died in post-election violence in 2011 in which Jonathan defeated Buhari. Western powers have been pressing both sides not to stoke tensions, with U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders issuing a direct appeal for calm this week.

Mohammed Ibn Chambas, U.N. special representative for West Africa, urged the candidates, political parties and state institutions to ensure free, credible, and peaceful election.

LONG QUEUES, STOCKPILING

In the capital Abuja long queues formed outside banks as people withdrew money. Queues for fuel also stretched for hundreds of meters in cities across the country.

"I'm getting my cash out now because I don't know what is going to happen. If it gets bad, you don't want to be stuck with no cash," Wale Olatunji, 31, a businessman queuing in the sun at a bank in Abuja, said.

Ishaya Yahaya Junior, a 40-year-old civil servant in the northern metropolis of Kaduna, where the worst violence occurred in 2011, said the atmosphere was tense with fears of a repeat of post-election violence.

"We have been stockpiling provisions – lots of people have been doing this. We don’t want to go outside if there is trouble," said the father-of-two, who estimated that his family could live for three weeks on stored food if necessary.

In a sign of growing tension, a spokesman for opposition Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi said an unidentified gunman shot at the governor's convoy on Thursday, wounding a security guard. Police said the gun shots were fired from the governor's convoy.

The Nigerian army said its troops had captured the northeast town of Gwoza, destroying the headquarters of Islamist Boko Haram insurgents.

Jonathan said that in the northeast, the army had contained Boko Haram, who were seen as the biggest security threat ahead of the election.

"They (army) have recaptured most of the communities and territories formerly occupied by the insurgents, making it possible for thousands of internally-displaced Nigerians to begin returning to their homes and communities," Jonathan said.

The past six weeks have seen a dramatic turnaround against the insurgency, with troops from Chad, Cameroon and Niger joining a battle to break the group's hold on a territory that in January was the size of Belgium. It is unclear, however, whether that will help Jonathan's re-election chances.

Additional reporting by Bate Felix, Julia Payne, Felix Onuah, Camilus Eboh and Abraham Terngu in Abuja, and Alexis Akwagyiram in Kaduna; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Giles Elgood

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