DAKAR/MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Islamist Boko Haram militants beheaded Salma Buba’s father in northern Nigeria last weekend, Buba was overcome by anger at what she saw as the government’s failure to protect her family.
Added to her bitterness is frustration that she will not be able to vote in Saturday’s presidential election. Insecurity in the area coupled with a lack of preparedness by the electoral authorities have prevented her from getting her voter card.
“I am not happy because I won’t be able to stop this president from coming back. He treated us badly by allowing Boko Haram to kill my husband, father and relations,” Buba told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at a camp for people uprooted by the violence near Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno state.
Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in a six-year insurgency aimed at establishing an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria’s Muslim northeast.
A military offensive against Boko Haram has led to the deaths of thousands of non-combatants according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, though the Nigerian government denies this.
The violence has caused some 1.5 million people to flee their homes with tens of thousands of them ending up in neighboring Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, has been criticized for not doing enough to tackle the insurgency. His challenger Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north, has campaigned on a reputation for toughness gained when he was military ruler of Nigeria in the 1980s.
Jonathan has also faced censure for neglecting the factors fuelling the insurgency including poverty, high youth employment and lower levels of education than in the south.
Experts say it is unclear how many displaced Nigerians will be able to vote.
However, the International Crisis Group (ICG) thinktank says votes from refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) are unlikely to have a significant impact on the election results in a country of 170 million people.
“There may be complaints by the IDPs about being disenfranchised, but we doubt the impact it will have on the outcome of results in any state,” Comfort Ero, ICG’s Africa Programme Director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.
“A concern is that they could be recruited by either side for additional support, especially if vote counting becomes contentious, and is particularly close,” Ero said.
Up to 150,000 people have fled to Niger where some have been persuaded to go back home to vote despite the dangers, according to Karl Steinacker, country representative in Niger for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).
“Voting is an income generating activity in Niger,” Steinacker told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“On two occasions, once in January and also this month, there has been a drive to coax Nigerian refugees back home on the promise of being given around 30,000 naira ($150), if they placed their votes,” he said by telephone from Niamey.
“These are not people being paid to return (permanently), as they’ve left the women and children,” said Steinacker, who said UNHCR officials had seen around 50 men leave the camps, adding that hundreds living among local communities could have left.
Isa Umar Gusau, spokesman for the governor of Borno, where many of the returning refugees come from, denied that the state had paid the refugees to vote.
Editing by Katie Nguyen