YOLA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's top opposition candidate urged the military not to be involved in the upcoming presidential election, saying the army "has no role to play in the conduct" of the poll.
Speaking on national television Tuesday, Atiku Abubakar criticized President Muhammadu Buhari's earlier remarks in which he ordered Nigeria's security forces to be "ruthless" with those found interfering with the voting process. Buhari warned that anyone who tries to disturb the vote "will do so at the expense of his own life."
Charging that the president's remarks were "a painful reminder of the era of dictatorship and military rule," Abubakar on Tuesday also urged the electoral commission "to remain impartial arbiters" of the vote.
"Voting is a civil activity," Abubakar said. "Nigeria's military is constitutionally responsible for protecting our territorial integrity and national borders and has no role to play in the conduct of elections."
Nigeria's presidential election, initially scheduled for Feb. 16, was at the last minute postponed for a week to Feb. 23, raising political tensions in the West African country of over 190 million people.
The electoral commission said it needed more time to organize a credible election. Both the ruling party and the opposition criticized the delay. Campaigning has since resumed.
Over 84 million people are registered to vote in Saturday's election that is widely seen as a tight race between Buhari and Abubakar, a billionaire businessman and former vice president who is vowing to "get Nigeria working again."
Buhari, who ruled briefly as a military dictator in the 1980s, won election in 2015 with promises to tackle corruption and insecurity as well as to steady the economy. Many Nigerians say he has failed to deliver on his promises.