Nigeria's ruling party accuses opposition of plotting pre-vote violence

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s government accused the main opposition party of planning violence ahead of next month’s election in a nation with a history of unrest and fraud allegations around votes.

FILE PHOTO: Nigeria's main opposition party presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar attends an interview with Reuters in Lagos, Nigeria January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo

The opposition called it a “ludicrous” pretext for repression.

The Feb. 16 vote in Africa’s top oil producer pits Buhari, a military ruler in the 1980s who was voted into office in 2015, against main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, a businessman and former vice president.

Reliable polls are hard to find in the nation of 190 million people, and analysts widely expect a tight race, partly because opposition stronghold states have seen a bigger increase in voter registration than ones where the ruling party is popular.

“We have credible intelligence that armed bandits andBoko Haram insurgents have been mobilized to engage in massive attacks and other acts of violence in several states,” Information Minister Lai Mohammed said, pointing the finger at Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Mohammed, who did not provide details of evidence, said the opposition wanted to create a constitutional crisis and trigger an interim government because it could not win the election.

“It is imperative to state that the PDP finds the claims of Alhaji Lai Mohammed irresponsible and ludicrous. It is just a measure for building the ground for framing up and arrest of leading members,” said the PDP in an emailed statement.

In October, Buhari sought to reassure voters the election would be free and fair after the opposition and international observers raised concerns that a gubernatorial vote was marred by voter intimidation.

Security has become a campaign issue due to an uptick in attacks by Islamist insurgents in the northeast.

Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) and Boko Haram, the militant group from which it broke away in 2016, have both carried out attacks in the last few months.

The PDP in its statement also urged the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure a free election.

“The entire nation is worried and the palpable fear of every Nigerian today is whether (INEC chairman) Mahmood Yakubu can conduct an election, which will indeed be free, fair, credible and transparent,” it said.

INEC spokesman Rotimi Oyekanmi declined to comment.

Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne