January 9, 2015 / 6:27 PM / 5 years ago

Nigeria races to get voter cards out for presidential election

* Many cards still need to be printed and handed out

* Some 11 million voters struck off, many wrongly

* Commission says it will be ready for Feb. 14 poll

By Julia Payne

ABUJA, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Five weeks before a presidential election, Nigeria’s electoral commission said on Friday it has not yet finished printing the cards that voters will need to present at polling stations.

Of the cards that are ready, about 15 million have not yet been collected by voters, sometimes because of apathy or geographical remoteness, said electoral commission spokesman Kayode Idowu, while insisting everything would be ready on time.

Commission data showed no voter cards at all had been delivered to Borno state, the region worst hit by Boko Haram militants who are waging an Islamist insurgency against the government. More than 10,000 people died last year in the violence.

The Feb. 14 election in Africa’s biggest economy and leading energy producer is expected to be a close contest between President Goodluck Jonathan and his leading challenger, Muhammadu Buhari. Its conduct will be closely watched, since past polls have been marred by widespread ballot-stuffing, violence and in some cases outright fabrication of results.

Across the country, 38.8 million voters have retrieved their cards, out of the 54.3 million that the commission, known as INEC, had produced by the end of last year, Idowu said.

“We’re making this data public to remind people to pick up their cards. We can’t take it to their homes,” he said. INEC was setting up more pickup locations outside the main towns to make it easier for rural voters.

He declined to comment on how many cards were left to print and distribute.

Jonathan’s administration has created permanent voter cards in an effort to stamp out fraudulent practices like voting multiple times. Now, in theory, no one can vote without presenting a biometric card and matching thumb print.

But there are controversies over technical glitches and data collection failures. Around 11 million people were struck off the voting list last year, many of them wrongly, and the opposition cried foul. Idowu declined to say how many had been re-registered.

Nigeria’s population is around 170 million, the biggest in Africa, but the number eligible to vote will not be known until next week, after INEC finishes processing registrations.

More than a million people displaced by Boko Haram and scattered across many states will be unable to vote unless the government finds a way around the electoral law, which says they have to vote in their home constituencies.

Idowu said parliament had now rejected changing that law.

In Borno, distribution of voter cards only began on Friday, INEC sources said. (Editing by Tim Cocks and Mark Trevelyan)

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