By Nasir Isa
Nigeriens head to the poll today in what’s termed as the first democratic transition in the country’s history.
Major priorities for voters are the economy, which is taking a hit due to the pandemic, and security, due to rising spare of violence along its northern border with Mali and southern border with Nigeria. Last month, the US Navy Seals staged a rescue operation for an American evangelist abducted in the country.
The former French West African colony, which got its independence in August 1960, is battling with economic, environmental and security challenges.
Niger, a landlocked desert country relies on its southern and northern neighbors for trade and development.
Niger has for long battled a Tuareg rebellion in the North, but the fallout of the Libyan crisis has exacerbated the conflict. The country also struggles to contain a rising Islamist insurgency in Mali and the Boko Haram war in Nigeria, which has led to the death of hundreds of its soldiers.
More than 30 candidates are vying to succeed the incumbent prime minister Mahamadou Issofou whose two-term of 10 years is coming to an end. The major contenders are the ruling party’s candidate Mohamed Bazoum and the opposition candidate Mahamane Ousmane who served as prime minister between 1993 and 1996.
The election was billed to be hotly contested but for a major twist that saw the disqualification of popular opposition candidate Hama Amadou who was the runner-up in the last election, leaving the opposition camp in disarray.
France and Nigeria continue to hold significant influence on political, social and economic developments within the country. The former due to its colonial attachment and the later because of its cultural and geographic proximity. Last month, the Buhari singer, Rarara, was in Niger to commission a song in support of the ruling party’s candidate who is being backed by prominent northern politicians from Kano, Sokoto and Katsina.
Few months ago, a video surfaced showing hundreds of campaign vehicles donated for the Bazoum campaign allegedly by Nigerian billionaire Dahiru Mangal who maintained close relationship with the Niger’s ruling class.
Analysts expect the election to be largely peaceful and results are expected to start trickling by Monday. If no candidate wins with outright majority, a second round of elections would be held on February 21, 2021.