Nigeria prepares for elections

Terrorism and falling oil prices set the agenda in the general elections

Nigeria's upcoming presidential elections on 14 February will be contested by a total of 14 candidates, including incumbent Goodluck Jonathan who was elected president in 2011, and former military head of state Muhammadu Buhari, who ruled the country from 1983 to 1985.

Jonathan, a 57- year-old Christian from the south, and Muhammadu Buhari, a 72-year-old Muslim from the north, are the main presidential contenders in a race pitting the mostly Muslim north against the predominantly Christian south. They are also the only two candidates to have contested the 2011 election, in which Jonathan won 60 per cent of the vote against Budhari's 32 per cent.

In addition to choosing a new president, Nigeria's 68.8 million registered voters will vote in the national parliamentary elections as well as for the state general assemblies and governorships.

Jonathan continues to face national and international pressure over his handling of the crisis posed by Islamist militants Boko Haram whose attacks, mainly in the north of the country, are growing in frequency and ferocity. Recently the insurgents have begun coercing young girls into suicide attacks in northern Nigeria. On 10 January a girl thought to have been aged about 10 blew herself up at a market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, killing at least 20, while the next day two school girls died after detonating bombs strapped to them at a market in the town of Potiskum, killing at least seven and injuring about 50 people.

The terror attacks come amid increasing criticism of the Nigerian army over its effectiveness in combating the insurgents who control large swathes of the north. The army has responded by ordering mass courts martial to purge alleged Boko Haram sympathisers from within its ranks.

Adding to Jonathan's woes in the run-up to the election is the current global oil crisis which has serious repercussions for Nigeria, one of the world's largest exporters of crude oil. Buhari has called on the Nigerian government to introduce an immediate price reduction on fuel products to reflect the drop in global oil prices over the last six months.

Buhari is remembered for his tough military discipline when he was the president in the 1980s but he is popular among the poor in the north and he escaped an attack on his convoy in Kaduna last July, which was thought to have been an assassination attempt by Boko Haram.

In the aftermath of Nigeria's last election in 2011, hundreds died in riots over accusations of vote rigging. This year the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is confident it can organise credible elections although it conceded that polls are unlikely to take place in areas occupied by Boko Haram insurgents.