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Nigeria Starts Voter Registration Drive - 2002-09-12

After months of delays, election officials in Nigeria have launched a voter registration drive in preparation for the country's first local elections since its return to civilian rule three years ago.

Local elections in Nigeria have been postponed twice, in May and August, due to problems with the voter registration rolls.

Critics complained the country, Africa's most populous, lacked a complete and proper voter register. Last month, the head of Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission said termites had chewed up much of the national voter registration rolls, which were kept on paper.

Election officials are working to establish a computerized register although they say the job will be difficult because, they say, funding is scarce.

Further delays were threatened recently, when five political parties asked the Nigerian Supreme Court to delay the vote. The parties argued the government had not given enough time for them to prepare for the registration drive. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court turned down the parties' request.

Scores of people lined up at registration sites that were set up in Lagos and across the country.

Officials aim to register 60 million people in the course of 10 days.

The poll, whose date has yet to be set, will be the first in Nigeria since the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo returned the country to civilian rule three years ago.

Analysts in Nigeria consider the upcoming elections a test of how the country will handle next year's presidential poll, in which Mr. Obasanjo will seek another term.

The president has been involved in a series of disputes with the National Assembly, which has threatened to impeach him. Political opponents, including members of his own party, have sought to remove Mr. Obasanjo, accusing his government of incompetence and corruption.