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Nigerian Voters Rush to Register

Nigerians are rushing to join millions of others who have registered to vote before Tuesday's deadline. Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA from Abuja that voter registration is seen as a key element in efforts to deliver credible elections in Nigeria.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) expects to register an estimated 70 million voters at its 120,000 designated locations by the deadline.

A lack of machines and technical hitches had slowed down the registration process, compelling eligible Nigerians to stay away.

But recent warnings by state authorities that Nigerians of voting age who refuse to register may be denied school registration for their children, excluded from government contracts and the declaration of Monday as a public holiday for federal workers, are driving a last-minute bid to register.

Among the hundreds of anxious Nigerians who had besieged a registration desk late Monday on a street outside a residential area in Maitaima district of Abuja, was office worker Nkechi Obodo, 30.

"Well, I was here at about 11:00, waited till about 1:30, I left to go the office because I had to work," he said. "So, I came back around 4:00 and I have been here, waiting. And some people have been here since 8:30, too, almost the whole day! If they [registration officials] do not leave, some people are saying they leave by 6:00 o'clock. If they do not leave, I hope to get registered. If not, I am not too sure."

Nigeria has a history of vote rigging and political violence. To reduce the risk of rigging, the electoral commission decided to register voters using machines that can record thumbprints and mug shots, making it nearly impossible for anyone to register more than once.

Dead batteries, frequent power outages, and malfunctioning machines are a few of the problems undermining the high-tech system, causing long delays at registration centers.

Election Commission Chairman Maurice Iwu says the electoral body is eager to register all eligible voters.

"We are confident that no Nigerian will be disenfranchised, that we will have every eligible voter who wants to vote, will be accommodated in the 2007 revision," he said. "The point has to be made that the problem in this country is not voter registration. The problem we have is voter identification. How do we make sure that it is only living Nigerians that vote? How do we make sure that we do not have a situation in this country, a shameful situation in some areas, we had more voters than registered voters. These are the challenges."

Despite surging oil revenue, Nigeria remains a profoundly poor country, struggling with several developmental challenges. Voters say they are eager to elect a new crop of leaders who will help improve the economy and ease hardship.

Hospital nurse Kate Abieyuwa, who had just registered as a voter, told VOA about her prayer for an election outcome that reflects the wish of Nigerian voters.

"If you do not vote, do not complain," she said. "But all the same, I want you to know that God has the final say. If you register, you vote or do not vote, or even if they did the rigging, God has the final say. I am a child of God and God permits any person that is in authority, whether they rigged it, he, God almighty allowed it. And so, I will still vote and say, God, let your will be done. And we are praying, his will will be done."

Nigerians are due to elect their president, state governors, and lawmakers in polls that should mark the first democratic handover to a new government since Africa's most populous country gained independence from Britain in 1960.