Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Nigerians head to the polls Saturday in a series of staggered polls that constitute the 2011 general elections, starting with the National Assembly (parliamentary) election, to be followed every Saturday till 16 April by the presidential poll as well as the governorship/state legislative poll.
Africa's most populous nation with a history of rigged and violent polls is seeking to use the 2011 general elections to redeem its image, which was badly tarnished following the 2007 general elections, described by local and international observers as the worst in the country's history.
Despite widespread violence in the run-up to the elections, President Goodluck Jonathan as well as the chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, have vowed to ensure that the elections will be free, fair, credible and peaceful.
The violence, which has claimed many lives and caused huge damages to property, has forced the government to order the deployment of troops to assist the police and other para-military forces in providing security for materials and personnel before, during and after voting.
The police, which will bear the brunt of security provision, said it had deployed 240,000 personnel in the 120,000 polling stations in which the 73.5 million registered voters will converge for the elections.
Despite the rejection of the troops deployment plan by the opposition, the military has also assured it is ready to ensure that thugs are kept away from the polling stations.
''Let me say that we will bear arms not to interfere with the electoral process but to ensure that all those who want to interfere with the process by use of arms are prevented from doing so,'' Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, said.
The security provision for the general elections will be tested on Saturday, as Nigerians vote for the 469 members of the bicameral legislature that comprises the Senate (109) members and the House of Representatives (360 members).
The parliamentary poll is being contested by 3,305 candidates drawn from 54 of the 63 registered political parties in the country.
The incoming parliamentarians, who will serve for four years starting 29 May 2011, comprise 109 members of the upper legislative chamber, the Senate, and 360 members of the lower House of Representatives.
The 109 Senate seats will be contested by 905 candidates from 54 out of the country's 63 registered political parties, while 2,400 contestants will vie for the 360 seats in the House, according to figures released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Ninety of the senatorial candidates, representing about 9.94 per cent, are women, while 219 women (about 9.1 per cent) are in the race for the House of Representatives.
Most of the candidates for the elections are from the four leading political parties - The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
Saturday's National Assembly (parliamentary) elections will be the fourth to be held in Africa's most populous nation since the country's return to democratic rule in 1999, following a long spell under military dictatorship.
INEC said the accreditation of voters, under a hybrid system called the Modified Open Ballot System, would start at 8am local time and end four hours later. Actual voting will start 12.30pm local time and continue until all the accredited voters have cast their ballot.
During the voting, no vehicular movement will be allowed, except for vehicles on election assignment and essential duties, according to the Ministry of Interior, while all the country's land borders will be shut from noon on Friday to Sunday morning.
In a country where opinion polls are largely untested and unreliable, insight into possible outcome of the vote are provided by newspaper projections.
One of such projections, by the private THISDAY newspaper, said Friday the PDP will win 35 seats, by far more than the total number of 32 seats projected for the three other leading parties - ACN, CPC and ANPP plus two smaller parties - Accord and DPP. The paper said 42 Senate seats are ''too close to call''.
Ahead of Saturday’s poll, President Jonathan has urged the political class to allow the tenets of peace, healthy competition and mutual respect for one another to guide their participation in the elections.
“I use this opportunity to appeal to members of the political class, the electorate and all Nigerians to ensure that the 2011 general elections…are conducted in an atmosphere of peace, harmony, mutual respect and healthy competition.
“Nigeria cannot afford to be distracted by acts of mindless violence and primordial tendencies at this critical period of our nation’s history,” President Jonathan said.
-0- PANA SEG 2April2011