Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan backs poll delay

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Media captionNigerian President Goodluck Jonathan: "We want to conduct free and fair elections"

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has told the BBC he fully supports his troubled poll chief after elections due to start last Saturday were postponed.

Voting had to be abandoned because basic paperwork did not reach huge swathes of the country on time.

The BBC's Caroline Duffield in Lagos says many Nigerians suspect electoral fraud could be behind the delay.

But President Jonathan said the decision to abandon voting showed a desire to do things properly.

Electoral chief Attahiru Jega was brought in last year to overhaul a system often regarded as flawed.

Parliamentary elections have been rescheduled for next Saturday, with the presidential polls and those for governors and state assemblies to be held later in the month.

'Sacrifice we have to pay'

"What happened is another demonstration that the country and the electoral body is totally committed to ensuring that they conduct [a] credible vote," Mr Jonathan told the BBC.

It is the first time the president has spoken about the mayhem of Nigeria's elections at the weekend.

Our reporter says after travelling for hours to return to their villages to cast their ballots, tens of millions of people were frustrated.

Many now say they cannot afford to make that journey again and there are worries people will not bother to vote next time, she says.

But Mr Jonathan pleaded with the country to make the effort again.

"It's a sacrifice that all of us are paying. I was also in the field, but I have to come back," he said.

"We really regret what happened. A number of us have spent money, to go to their homes to voteā€¦ It's a sacrifice we all have to pay."

Our correspondent says after a decade of rigged elections Nigerians are longing for a real change.

For President Jonathan the stakes are high, she says.

He has made it clear electoral reform is crucial for Nigeria's future - he even promised US President Barack Obama that he would deliver a free and fair vote.

"We want to make sure there are significant changes in this country. It's only when we can select our leaders that we are in a position to give our people what they want.

"So the election is very, very important to us."

The danger for him lies in winning a tainted elections process as he does not want to carry that baggage into his first full term of office, our reporter says.

Nigeria: A nation divided

To win at the first round, a candidate not only needs the majority of votes cast, but at least 25% of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states. Goodluck Jonathan, of the PDP, reached that threshold in 31 states; runner-up Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC only did so in 16 states.

Nigeria's 160 million people are divided between numerous ethno-linguistic groups and also along religious lines. Broadly, the Hausa-Fulani people based in the north are mostly Muslims. The Yorubas of the south-west are divided between Muslims and Christians, while the Igbos of the south-east and neighbouring groups are mostly Christian or animist. The Middle Belt is home to hundreds of groups with different beliefs, and around Jos there are frequent clashes between Hausa-speaking Muslims and Christian members of the Berom community.

Despite its vast resources, Nigeria ranks among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the UN. The poverty in the north is in stark contrast to the more developed southern states. While in the oil-rich south-east, the residents of Delta and Akwa Ibom complain that all the wealth they generate flows up the pipeline to Abuja and Lagos.

Southern residents tend to have better access to healthcare, as reflected by the greater uptake of vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and diphtheria. Some northern groups have in the past boycotted immunisation programmes, saying they are a Western plot to make Muslim women infertile. This led to a recurrence of polio, but the vaccinations have now resumed.

Female literacy is seen as the key to raising living standards for the next generation. For example, a newborn child is far likelier to survive if its mother is well-educated. In Nigeria we see a stark contrast between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. In some northern states less than 5% of women can read and write, whereas in some Igbo areas more than 90% are literate.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and among the biggest in the world but most of its people subsist on less than $2 a day. The oil is produced in the south-east and some militant groups there want to keep a greater share of the wealth which comes from under their feet. Attacks by militants on oil installations led to a sharp fall in Nigeria's output during the last decade. But in 2010, a government amnesty led thousands of fighters to lay down their weapons.

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