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Nigerian President Faces No Main Rivals at Final Campaign Debate


Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan, center, wave to his supporters during the final campaign rally, at Eagle Square in Abuja, March 26, 2011

Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan, center, wave to his supporters during the final campaign rally, at Eagle Square in Abuja, March 26, 2011

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has taken part in the final presidential debate before three weeks of nationwide elections. None of his main challengers took part because they are protesting the president's refusal to join an earlier debate.

President Jonathan had the stage to himself after all three of his main challengers boycotted the nationally-televised program over his decision to skip a debate earlier this month. Those rivals criticized the president for not showing up to defend a ruling party that has won every presidential contest since Nigeria's return to civilian rule in 1999.

Mr. Jonathan moved quickly to reassure voters that he has a record to run on. "I believe that Nigerians by today will know that Mr. President is not running away or shying away from explaining to them what we have been doing, from giving account of his stewardship," he said.

With no one to challenge his answers, it was more campaign speech than debate as Mr. Jonathan outlined goals for education and the economy.

Presidential, legislative, and gubernatorial candidates are wrapping up their campaigns ahead of nationwide elections in Africa's most populous country. Issues of security and the economy have dominated the campaign. Human Rights Watch says the candidates are not paying enough attention to communal violence and corruption.

Election observers say they will be watching for signs of violence between Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria, especially as Mr. Jonathan is from the predominantly Christian south and his three main challengers are from the mainly-Muslim north.

President Jonathan is promising free, fair, and credible elections that he says will restore Nigeria to its rightful place in the international community. "Even though I am contesting the election, I will ensure that the vote of Nigerians count. And that nobody will rig elections. Nobody will intimidate others," he said.

More than 70 million Nigerians are registered to take part in the vote.

Security forces are deploying across the country ahead of Saturday's first round of balloting to prevent further violence after a series of bomb attacks at campaign events over the last month.

View slide show on Nigerian elections:

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