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Nigerian lawmaker arrested with nearly $500,000 ahead of vote

ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigerian police arrested a lawmaker allegedly carrying nearly $500,000 in cash to a battleground state a day ahead of the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections, raising fresh concerns Friday about the influence of cash in voting.

Chinyere Igwe, a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, was found traveling with money in a bag in his car around 2 a.m. along with a distribution list, Rivers State Police spokeswoman Grace Iringe said – Koko.

It is illegal to move undeclared cash of more than $10,000 in Nigeria. Authorities were questioning the lawmaker on Friday, Iringe-Koko said.

Kano state authorities, meanwhile, announced the arrest of more than 60 “suspected thugs with dangerous weapons” after clashes between political party supporters on Thursday. Local media reported that one person was burned alive in the violence.

Nigerian voters will go to the polls on Saturday to select a new president after incumbent Muhammadu Buhari’s second and final term. They are also electing a new national legislature.

Three favorites emerged from a field of 18 presidential candidates, including Bola Tinubu of the ruling party and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition party. Most polls favored Peter Obi, a third-party hopeful.

The vote is being closely watched as Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and one of the continent’s top oil producers: By 2050, the United Nations estimates Nigeria will join the United States as the world’s third most populous nation after India and China.

The election comes amid a currency shortage in Africa’s most populous nation, raising concerns that it will affect voter turnout. Authorities announced a switch to a new naira banknote in November, but the change has led to nationwide shortages of banknotes.

At the same time, doubts have arisen about the ability of the Nigerian authorities to curb the influence of money in the country’s elections.

Observer groups have documented that political parties make payments ranging from 500 naira ($1.09) to 5,000 naira ($10.9) to people willing to vote for their candidates, a tactic used amid high unemployment and poverty in the country.

“Vote buying remains a major threat to our democracy,” Mahmood Yakubu, head of Nigeria’s electoral commission, told reporters on Thursday.

The use of cell phones is banned in Nigeria’s polling stations, Yakubu said. Authorities have introduced a ban on harassing voters by photographing ballot papers as evidence in exchange for money from political parties.


Associated Press reporter Ibrahim Garba in Kano, Nigeria contributed.

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