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Nigerian Opposition Cry Foul Over Pre-Poll Holiday


In Nigeria, a last-minute decision by the government to declare Thursday and Friday national holidays is forcing a delay in a crucial court ruling on the upcoming presidential election. The court is deciding whether Nigeria's vice president and top opposition politician, Atiku Abubakar, can keep his name on the ballot sheet for the presidential polls. Abubakar's camp is crying foul. Sarah Simpson reports for VOA from Lagos.

The Nigerian government says it declared Thursday and Friday public holidays so that voters can travel home to vote in Saturday's state elections.

Opposition politicians say that the holidays have been called to delay a crucial court ruling on whether Vice President Atiku Abubakar can run as a candidate in presidential elections, to be held a week later.

Presidential polls on April 21 are set to be a milestone in Nigeria's troubled history, marking the first time that power will pass from one civilian elected head of state to another.

The Supreme Court, the highest court in Nigeria, was scheduled to making a ruling Thursday on whether Abubakar could run the election.

But that date has been put back until Monday - just five days before election day - as a result of the last minute holiday announcement.

Abubakar's spokesman, Garba Shehu, said that the holiday announcement has compromised voting before a ballot has been cast.

"This is another form of rigging - rigging by other means," Shehu said. "They are placing us at a disadvantage and they are placing their own party, the PDP, an unfair advantage."

After some initial confusion, banks opened for business as usual Thursday and street traders plied their wares regardless of the holiday announcement.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and largest oil exporter. For many years the country was synonymous with coups and military regimes, until the restoration of civilian rule in 1999.