Nigerian leader urges peaceful vote
President Goodluck Jonathan has urged Nigeria to vote peacefully and accept the results of tomorrow's presidential election, which analysts say will be the tightest in the nation's history.
Mr Jonathan said in a televised broadcast today that no political ambition can justify shedding blood. Dozens of people have already been killed.
He and leading rival Muhammadu Buhari signed peace pledges yesterday and urged their supporters to avoid violence.
Human rights leaders say politicians have done little to lower tensions heightened by hate speech on ethnic and religious lines.
Security forces are also on high alert against attacks by Boko Haram Islamic extremists who have threatened to disrupt the vote.
All Nigeria's land and sea borders have been closed as an extra precaution, and there are extra roadblocks in cities like Abuja, the capital, which has been rocked by three massive suicide bomb blasts in the past year that killed hundreds and were blamed on Boko Haram.
The close contest should be "cause to celebrate" and signal growing democracy, said Chidi Odinkalu, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.
Instead, the high-stakes contest in Africa's biggest oil producer, where patronage and corruption are rife, has spawned "the most extraordinary form of hate speech, incendiary vituperations, ethnic bating; all the things you are not supposed to do", he said.
His state-sponsored but independent organisation reported at least 58 killings by February 13 and there have been many more since then, Mr Odinkalu said.
He complained that politicians have done little to dampen tensions.
Nigeria's political landscape was transformed when main opposition parties formed a coalition two years ago and for the first time united behind one candidate, former military dictator Mr Buhari, who is running for president for the fourth time.
Mr Jonathan's party has governed since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999. His insistence on running has caused many defections to the opposition by politicians who say he is breaking an unwritten party rule to rotate power between the mainly Christian south, where he is from, and the predominantly Muslim north which is Mr Buhari's stronghold.
Mr Buhari's loss to Mr Jonathan in 2011 elections sparked riots in his northern stronghold that killed more than 1,000 people, according to the human rights commission. A complaint before the International Criminal Court at The Hague accuses Mr Buhari of instigating the violence, a charge the retired general denies.
In recent days, the church of a pastor who backed Mr Jonathan has been burned down in northern Kaduna state, the opposition governor of a southern state was shot at as he campaigned, and there has been nightly gunfire in Lagos, the commercial capital in the south west where Mr Odinkalu said there is an "arms race" getting weapons to ethnic militias.