Just days before Nigerians will go to the polls to elect a new leader, U.S. President Barack Obama has called on the leaders and citizens of Africa’s most populous nation, and biggest economy, to ensure a safe, peaceful election. But amid violence by Boko Haram that has killed more than 6,000 civilians and forced a postponement of the vote, it’s not going to be easy.
“I call on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections,” America's first African-descended president said in a video message posted on YouTube Monday. He also called on Nigerians to “peacefully express your views and to reject the voices of those who call for violence.”
Nigeria’s elections will be held on March 28, after a six-week delay from their original date. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan decided to push back the vote because of Boko Haram violence, citing concerns about security at polling stations in the northeastern region. The group is responsible for more than 10,000 deaths since 2011, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Boko Haram, which recently announced an alliance with the Islamic State group, has terrorized the country’s rural northeast for more than five years. Its attacks have sent more than a million people fleeing for their lives, creating a humanitarian crisis that’s left aid groups scrambling to find help.
Jonathan’s top challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, has gained popularity among voters for his strong stances against corruption. Despite his past as a military dictator between 1983 and 1985, many Nigerians see him as a source of stability amid security concerns.
Nigeria has been a democracy since 1999, but the voting process has never been smooth. According to Human Rights Watch, violence broke out in 12 northern states after the 2011 election, killing 800 people.
“Boko Haram wants to destroy Nigeria and all that you have worked to build,” Obama said in his statement. “By casting your ballot, you can help secure your nation’s progress.”
“Today, I urge all Nigerians -- from all religions, all ethnic groups and all regions -- to come together and keep Nigeria one. And in this task of advancing the security, prosperity and human rights of all Nigerians, you will continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
See the full video below.