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Frontrunners for Nigerian Presidency Focus on Economy, Security

Presidential campaigning is underway in Nigeria with the two frontrunners to lead Africa's most populous nation. Both of the leading candidates have experience running the country, though neither was ever elected to do so.

Presidential campaigning is underway in Nigeria with the two frontrunners to lead Africa's most populous nation. Both of the leading candidates have experience running the country, though neither was ever elected to do so.

President Goodluck Jonathan came to power four months ago following the death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. Retired general Ibrahim Babangida took power in a 1985 coup and ran the country for eight years atop a military dictatorship.

Candidates' promises

Now, both men are running for the nomination of a ruling party that has won all three presidential elections since the return to civilian rule 11 years ago. Both men are promising to revive the economy and end instability in parts of the north and in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

President Jonathan says his four months in office have opened his eyes to the vast potentials of the presidency as an instrument to transform Nigeria.

"I discovered that by insisting that the right things be done, we could begin a turnaround in our power sector by involving the private sector in power generation and distribution," said Mr. Jonathan. "We saw to it that normalcy began to return to the Niger Delta by ensuring government's fidelity to its promises. And this has helped to stabilize our national revenue."

Connect government with people

Mr. Babangida says there is a disconnect between the Jonathan government and the Nigerian people, especially the large number of unemployed young people and women.

"I want to dedicate this period of my life to that cause," said Babangida. "Today, the reality of our present circumstances is that our country is in crisis. We cry over our economy. We agonize over the state of our educational system as well as organized crime. Our infrastructure has collapsed, and we continue to live with epileptic supply of electricity."

The retired general says his accomplishments make his participation in this election imperative.

"I have drawn on my background, experience, and the realities of our contemporary history to dedicate myself to the restoration of good governance in our country," he added.

Mr. Babangida annulled a 1993 election that is widely seen as the country's fairest ever. His regime was marked by repeated allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Elections offer new Opportunity

Without mentioning his opponent by name, President Jonathan says Nigeria is at the threshold of a new era that demands a new kind of leadership uncontaminated by prejudices of the past.

"I set the stage for free and fair elections by constituting an electoral commission comprising of Nigerians with impeccable credentials for firmness and incorruptibility," said President Jonathan. "I charged our anti-corruption agencies to speed up the war against corruption and respect no sacred cows in the process."

Mr. Babangida too speaks of the need for a new type of leadership, saying his time out of office has made him better prepared to return to power.

"I believe strongly that in the midst of the present signals there is hope for a foundational renewal," Babangida said. "I am certain that Nigerians have the capability to rise to the demands of rapid development and positive change under a competent, visionary, bold, fair, firm, honest, purpose-driven leadership."

President Jonathan says he intends to run a positive campaign to unite the country behind improving education, electricity, and water.

"I have come to preach love not hate, I have come to break you away from divisive tendencies of the past, which have stopped our drive to true nationhood," Mr. Jonathan said. "I have no enemies to fight, you are all my friends and we share a common destiny."

President Jonathan's election bid upsets an informal ruling-party deal that rotates power between north and south every eight years. Under that plan, the next Nigerian president should be from the north to finish out what would have been President Yar'Adua's second term instead of continuing on with President Jonathan, who is from the south.

Candidates face other challenges

In addition to Mr. Babangida, Mr. Jonathan is facing ruling-party challenges from former vice president Atiku Abubakar and former security advisor Aliyu Gusau.

It is a quick campaign, with ruling-party primaries scheduled to begin October 18th.