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Nigeria to Shut Down Universities for National Vote

FILE - Cars drive past the University of Lagos gate in Nigeria, Aug. 17, 2022.

Nigerian authorities on Thursday directed all universities to shut down for nearly three weeks for this month's presidential elections, citing security concerns.

The National Universities Commission said “concerns expressed on the security of staff, students and properties of our respective institutions,” were a factor in the decision, in a letter to universities signed by Chris Maiyaki, its deputy executive secretary.

The decision to close the country’s more than 200 universities from Feb. 22 to March 14 followed “extensive consultations with the relevant security agencies,” Maiyaki said.

On Feb. 25, Nigerians will elect a successor for President Muhammadu Buhari, as well as state governors and lawmakers. An unprecedented 94 million are registered to vote.

Nigeria is battling various armed groups in its northwest and southeast, while overstretched security forces continue to fight decade-long extremist violence in the northeast. In recent years, gunmen have targeted universities in the troubled northern region, with hundreds of students abducted and later freed — sometimes in exchange for ransoms.

In addition to ensuring the safety of students, the university closure will also let students enrolled at faculties in other parts of the country return where they're registered to vote, Haruna Lawal Ajo, the university commission's director of public affairs, told The Associated Press.

Nigeria’s electoral law doesn't allow people to vote away from where they're registered.

With students comprising 28% of the electorate, the planned closure could boost election-day turnout that has been low in previous voting. Only 34% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2019 presidential election, the lowest turnout since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999.

"Most of the students are above 18 and have vote cards, they can exercise their civic right,” Ajo said.