With the nomination of party-based candidates over, Nigerians are bracing themselves for crucial polls in April. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that the current delay with voter registration is seen as a disturbing prelude to the elections.
The 2007 polls are likely to be one of the most keenly contested in Nigeria's political history, mainly because the president and many state governors are nearing their second terms and the constitution bars them from seeking a third.
Election officials say the immediate challenge facing the April vote is compiling a credible voter register. With less than four months to the elections, work on the register is continuing. Officials say they hope to complete the register by the end of this month.
Hameed Ojo, a political science professor at the University of Abuja, says the delay with voter registration could have wider implications for the elections.
"The inability of INEC [Independent National Electoral Commission] to produce a voters register is likely to cause a lot of problems because at the moment, one, the authentic voters register ought to have been distributed to political parties to enable them to plan their campaign strategies," said Ojo. "Secondly, the various constituency units are supposed to be clearly demarcated, named and located, so that the actual preparation for elections will start. But all these things are not being … [done] …because the voters register is not known and proper arrangement cannot be carried out."
The electoral commission has also come under intense pressure to abandon a controversial electronic registration system that has suffered from a shortage of machines and technical hitches.
Electoral Commission Chairman Maurice Iwu says despite the delays, electronic voter registration represents the most plausible means of achieving credible elections in Nigeria.
"The commission was compelled to go back to manual [registration] even when we had started the exercise," he said. "This time around, we are not going to be so compelled. This time around, there is going to be one-man-one-vote. This time around if cannot identify yourself as the legitimate owner of that registration number, you cannot vote. It is better that we have real Nigerians voting than fictitious names voting."
Africa's top oil producer returned to democracy in 1999 after three decades of almost continuous military rule.
Analysts say a free, fair and credible elections is the only way to mitigate the likelihood of politically motivated violence.
British Member of Parliament John Robertson says the deployment of large teams of international election observers could enhance the credibility of the vote.
"It is very important that we have international presence," he said. "I know that EU [European Union] who are probably, as far as I am concerned, the best monitors of elections, the UK [United Kingdom] will obviously do its part as it usually does, but the EU and the Commonwealth - Nigeria is part of the Commonwealth - and between these two large bodies they can put enough observers over here."
The fractious make up of Nigeria tend to complicate its politics. The country has more than 200 ethnic groups spread across 36 states with the population almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.