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  • Supporters of PDP attend a campaign rally in Lagos.

    Supporters of PDP attend a campaign rally in Lagos. | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 February 2019

The incumbent candidate was a former military dictator installed in 1983.

Nigeria's presidential candidates have renewed a pledge for peaceful elections ahead of Saturday’s vote, in a race that promises little hope for change for Nigeria’s young population who have such limited job prospects that many are leaving the country. A stampede, however, has killed 20 people at a political rally for incumbent President Muhammadu in Port Harcourt.

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The incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party, is seeking his second term. His bid is being challenged by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Both vowed Wednesday to contribute to a free and fair election and refrain from "religious incitement" or ethnic profiling.

Muhammadu Buhari, 76, made history in 2015 as the first person to democratically oust an incumbent president in Nigeria. A reputation as a staunch opponent of corruption was key to Buhari's victory in the last election. He was installed as military dictator after a coup in December, 1983.

His approach was typified by policies that included having people whipped if they refused to queue at bus stops.

At a political rally for Muhammadu, 20 people were killed and another 29 injured as security forces ushered people out of the event. The numbers are expected to rise as first reponders collect data on the incident. 

Saturday's vote offers little hope of change for young people in a country where nearly a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, a source of frustration that has the potential to spill over into violence.

"I should be happy, but I'm not happy because the two candidates aren't what I expected," said Dorcas Nathaniel, a student in the capital, Abuja, who planned to vote for the first time.

Nigeria had more than 70 candidates for president when campaigning began, but only the candidates from the two main parties have a real shot at leading Africa's most populous nation.

While a handful of the other candidates are touted as civil society alternatives, their chances of winning are slim without the big parties' wealth and patronage.

Nathaniel said she had hoped at least one of the candidates would have policies she found inspiring, but neither did. At 20, she is in the under-35 age group who make up 51 percent of the 84 million registered voters.

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Nigeria is one of the 20 countries with the youngest populations. The median age in the country is about 18. Half of registered voters are aged between 18 and 35, and yet this Saturday they will be voting for two men in their 70s — both familiar faces.

Anyone seeking an alternative to the main two candidates, who come from similar backgrounds — both are well-known, elderly, northern Muslim men from the Fulani ethnic group — has been disappointed.

The similarities between the two are largely due to an unofficial power-sharing agreement under which the presidency alternates between the north and south after every two four-year terms. It is now the turn of the mainly Muslim north.

The rest of the more than 70 presidential candidates lack access to funds available to Buhari and Atiku through their parties, the All Progressives Congress and People's Democratic Party. The two men have also developed patronage networks over decades in politics.

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