Nigeria presses ahead with vote amid cash shortage crisis

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's election commission said Thursday it now has received much of the cash it needs to carry out this weekend’s elections, dismissing concerns that the vote would be postponed because of the country's banknote crisis.

Meanwhile, though, Nigerians continued to line up at banks across Africa's most populous nation, unable to withdraw their money. The shortages fueled fears that voters could have trouble getting to their polling stations on Saturday.

Authorities have in the past delayed Nigeria's last two presidential elections, but the Independent National Electoral Commission said Thursday that election materials and staffers were being deployed to more than 175,000 voting units across Nigeria.

“I want to assure Nigerians that we are adequately prepared for this election," INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu said at a news conference in the capital, Abuja.

Still, he noted that 6.2 million eligible voters had not picked up their voting cards in time for Saturday's vote.

Hussaini Abdu with YIAGA Africa, a nonprofit group promoting electoral reforms in Nigeria, feared people could have difficulties getting to polling stations on Saturday or lose interest altogether.

“The growing discontent among citizens may lead to voter apathy in the form of protest, which will eventually lead to low voter turnouts,” Abdu said.

Nigerian voters are to choose a new president on Saturday from a field of 18 candidates following the second and final term of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.

Three front-runners have emerged, including the ruling party’s Bola Tinubu and the main opposition’s Atiku Abubakar. Peter Obi, a third-party hopeful who has been favored in most polls, has broken the usual cycle of two-candidate races.

Authorities announced in November that they were replacing Nigeria's currency, the naira, with new, redesigned notes for the first time in nearly two decades. But with the change coming just before the election, everyone from vendors to government officials have struggled to have enough money on hand in a country still heavily dependent on its cash economy.

On Thursday, the election commission also sought to reassure Nigerians that the country’s security challenges were being addressed as well.

Observers have expressed concerns about the safety of voters and election workers, particularly in the north where thousands have died in the last year because of violence linked to Islamic extremists and banditry.

Violence directed at polling stations in the southeast where separatists are active also has created unease about the vote.

A senate candidate for the Labour Party was burned to death by gunmen, police said Thursday, the latest in a spiral of violence that analysts fear could affect voter turnout.

Chinedu Asadu, The Associated Press