Election dates set

General elections will be held in Nigeria between 12 April and 3 May 2003, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced on Friday.

INEC Chairman Abel Guobadia said the election of the federal parliament would take place on 12 April, to be followed on 19 April by the presidential poll and state governorship elections. The election of regional legislatures would be held on 3 May, he said.

INEC registered 30 political parties for the elections, the highest number since the presidential system was introduced in Nigeria in 1979. “With the possibility of 30 political parties fielding candidates for the elections, the commission feels it can handle no more than two separate elections at the same time,” Guobadia told a news conference in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

He said run-off polls would be held on 26 April if no definitive winner emerged in the presidential vote.

An electoral bill passed by the federal legislature had required all elections to be held on one day. INEC successfully challenged the requirement in the Supreme Court, which paved the way for it to present a staggered election schedule.

President Olusegun Obasanjo is seeking the endorsement of the ruling People’s Democratic Party for a second four-year term in office, but he is being challenged by a number of other contestants, including a former civilian vice president, Alex Ekwueme.

Next year’s vote is particularly important for Nigeria because no civilian government since independence in 1960 has conducted an electoral transition without being overthrown by the military.