April 13, 2010 / 1:24 PM / 9 years ago

Hundreds of Nigerians demand reforms, fair elections

LAGOS (Reuters) - Hundreds of Nigerian youths rallied in the commercial capital Lagos on Tuesday demanding Acting President Goodluck Jonathan implement much needed electoral reforms to ensure credible national polls next year.

Political demonstrations have become more common in Africa’s most populous country since the departure of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua from the public eye five months ago.

Jonathan has taken over executive powers and has tried to quickly assert his authority in the absence of Yar’Adua, who remains too sick to govern. But concerns linger of a possible power struggle between Jonathan and key Yar’Adua allies, especially if the president begins to recover from his heart ailment.

The political uncertainty in sub-Saharan Africa’s second biggest economy has stalled key reforms, slowed state business, and threatened a popular amnesty programme that has brought relative peace to the oil-producing Niger Delta.

“We are saying enough is enough. Nigeria is not going forward,” said Shade Ladipo, a 28-year-old event planner.

The protesters, some carrying placards saying “Jonathan We are Watching,” and “We want to talk for ourselves,” marched to the office of Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, giving him a list of demands to forward to Jonathan and other political leaders.

“We want electoral reforms. We want our votes to count,” said Christopher Ehindero, a film maker in Lagos. “I’m 34 and I have never voted in my life.”

Jonathan has made overhauling Nigeria’s electoral system a top priority to avoid a repeat of the flawed 2007 polls, which brought Yar’Adua to power.

Reform legislation is currently before parliament. But time is quickly running out for changes to be implemented in time for next year’s elections, which are due by April 2011.

The United States, by far Nigeria’s biggest trading partner, said the West African country’s election chief should be replaced if it wants to hold credible national polls.

The 2007 elections were so marred by ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation that local and international observers said they were not credible.

Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Giles Elgood

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