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Nigeria Cuffs Legislator Over $500K Ahead of Elections

A half opened steel handcuff in center on top of the national flag of Nigeria (Adobe Stock)
A half opened steel handcuff in center on top of the national flag of Nigeria (Adobe Stock)

Nigerian authorities arrested a lawmaker who allegedly was carrying nearly $500,000 in cash in Rivers State, southern Nigeria, raising concerns about the influence of money in the run-up to the country's presidential and legislative elections.

Chinyere Igwe, a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, was detained Friday by Rivers state police after finding nearly $500,000 in his car along with a distribution list, the battleground state police spokesperson Grace Iringe-Koko said.

It is an offence to move undeclared cash of more than $10,000 in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, authorities in Kano state announced the arrests of more than 60 “suspected thugs with dangerous weapons” after supporters of political parties clashed Thursday. One person was burned to death in the clashes according to local media.

Nigerian voters are heading to the polls Saturday to select a new president following the second and final term of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. They also are electing a new national legislature.

Most polls show that four prominent presidential candidates, including the governing party's Bola Tinubu, the main opposition party's Atiku Abubakar, the Labour Party's Peter Obi, and the leader of the New Nigeria Peoples Party Rabiu Kwankwaso, have a real chance of winning the presidency in Africa's most populous country.

The election comes amid a currency shortage, raising concerns about whether it will affect voter turnout. Authorities announced the switch to a new naira note in November, but the switch has led to shortfalls of bank notes nationwide.

Nigerians Complain Over Cash, Fuel as Elections Near 
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At the same time, there have been doubts about the ability of Nigerian authorities to curb the influence of money in the country's elections.

Observer groups have documented political parties making payments ranging from 500 naira ($1.08) to 10,000 naira ($10.8) to people willing to vote for their candidates, a tactic used amid high unemployment and poverty rates in the country.

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

The use of mobile phones is prohibited at Nigeria’s voting stations, Yakubu said. Authorities introduced the ban to counter voters photographing ballots as evidence in exchange for cash from political parties.