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Nigerians head to polls for pivotal vote

Nigeria's parliamentary and presidential elections, slated to begin Saturday, aim to tackle corruption and internal tension while setting an example for other African nations soon to hold votes.

By Maggie FickCorrespondent / April 8, 2011

Supporters of presidential aspirant, Gen. Muhammad Buhari, react, during a campaign rally in Lagos, Nigeria, on Wednesday, April 6. A former military ruler of Nigeria has gained support in his third bid to become president of the oil-rich nation. Gen. Buhari ruled Nigeria from 1983 to 1985 after a military coup deposed elected President Shehu Shagari. Nigerians will vote for a new president on April 16.

Sunday Alamba/AP

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Kano, Nigeria

Nigerians head to the polls Saturday to kick off a three-week-long election season that could put democracy here on a new and more promising path – or further entrench a political elite accused by many of driving Africa's most populous nation into the ground.

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Stakes are high, both internationally and within the country, for the fourth election since Nigeria's transition from military dictatorship to civilian rule in 1999. Nigerians, naturally, seek a strong leader at a time of growing disenchantment with government and clashes between ethnic and religious groups. The international community, meanwhile, hopes credible elections could positively, albeit indirectly, shape the other 17 polls to be held in Africa this year.

"The quality of these elections will influence how the United States and other nations view and interact with Nigeria, and in turn how effectively Nigeria can exercise leadership internationally," US Ambassador to Nigeria Terrence McCulley told the Monitor. "Certainly a credible and transparent election would strengthen Nigeria's authority to exercise responsible leadership in Africa and around the world."

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Nigerians hope the vote will, at the very least, avoid the fraud and violence of the 2007 election. At best, legitimate elections will reflect of the will of Nigeria's 73 million registered voters – people such as Aondona Iortim, a taxi driver from the country's "Middle Belt" region, who says he is desperate for this vote to be a "real election" that represents the wishes of disgruntled citizens like himself.

Desperate for a 'real election'

"Change is happening around the world and we want change here [in Nigeria] so badly," says Mr. Iortim, adding that he wants a shakeup in Nigerian leadership. He thinks that opposition presidential candidate Gen. Muhammad Buhari is the man for the job.

Tomorrow's parliamentary vote will reflect the standing of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) among the electorate and could have an impact on its performance in the April 16 presidential polls.

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