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Monday, October 5, 1998 Published at 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK

World: Africa

Nigerians register to vote

General Abubakar - one of the first to register

Voter registration is underway in Nigeria for elections which are intended to lead to a handover to civilian government next year.

BBC's Hillary Andersson: "An authentic voters' register is an essential basis for any future democracy"
The body overseeing the elections has been urging the electorate to come forward to register over the next two weeks.

"Your vote is your power," voters were told on Sunday in television advertisements taken out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

INEC has said it expects about half of Nigeria's population of more than 107 million to vote and has distributed registration lists and 60 million voter cards to its offices.

The BBC Lagos Correspondent, Hillary Andersson, says the creation of the new voters' register will serve as a test of the new electoral commission's organisational capacity in the run-up to elections and also of its independence.

Abubakar registers

Nigeria's military leader, General Abubakar, has said he will hand over to a democratically-elected government in May.

He was among the first Nigerians to put his name on the voters register.

"Now that I have registered, Nigerians should come out en masse to register. They should participate fully in the programme and have faith in the military's promise to hand over power," he told reporters.

The hand-over process begins with local elections in December, with legislative and presidential elections due in February.

Preparing for 'legally acceptable' elections

Following the registration, the lists of voters will be checked and cross-checked, to prevent any faults or double registration, Justice Ephraim Akpata, head of INEC, told reporters.

The last successful polls in Nigeria took place in 1979, which were won by the northern politician Shehu Shagari.

Mr Shagari's re-election, under dubious circumstances in 1983, was almost immediately followed by a military coup, led by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari.

The next elections considered free and fair by international observers were held in 1993, but were annulled by the military before the results were announced, and General Sani Abacha took over as president.

General Abacha also called presidential elections for late 1997, but was the only candidate.

It was after Mr Abacha's death in June 1998 that his successor, General Abubakar, promised a return to democratic rule.

The assumed winner of the 1993 elections, Chief Moshood Abiola, would have been a favoured candidate for the forthcoming presidential elections, but he died in jail, shortly before he was expected to be released by the new military government.

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