By Paul Ejime
At least seven Niger Electoral officials were killed in a roadside bomb attack by anti-government militia groups as the country’s 7.4 million registered voters cast their ballots in the presidential run-off vote on Sunday.
Voting was reported relatively peaceful in other parts of the country, but official sources said the attack took place in the Tillaberi region near Niger’s border with Mali and Burkina Faso while the officials were transporting polling materials.
The region is notorious for similar attacks including one in early January with some 50 fatalities.
More than 6,000 people were killed and another two million displaced last year in the Sahel region, which has become a haven for deadly insurrections, terrorism and jihadist attacks.
Sunday’s poll pitted former Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum, the favourite against former President Mahamane Ousmanane.
Both were frontrunners from the December 27 inconclusive first round balloting.
Bazoum, 61, received about 40% of the votes in the first round against 16.9% by second placed former Ousmane, 71.
The second round became inevitable because none of the 30 candidates in the first round got more than 50% votes required by the constitution to win the presidency.
Although Bazoum, the anointed candidate of outgoing President Mahamane Issoufou, is expected to win Sunday’s poll, he has his job cut out for him in the politically restive former French colony with an estimated 24 million population.
Niger is rich in uranium, but it is the world’s poorest nation, according to the UN Human Development ranking. Proceeds from the precious gem is used to provide energy in France, while the vast majority of Niger citizens lack access to power supply.
There is biting unemployment in the West African country, which is notorious for political instability including military coups. It currently endures crises related to climate change and insecurity from militant groups including Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa.
Niger is an ECOWAS member state and also belongs to the G5 Sahel countries, which with French support are fighting terrorism and insurgency in the region.
Nigeria’s former Vice-president Namadi Sambo heads the ECOWAS Election Observation Mission to tomorrow’s vote in Niger.
Paul Ejime, an author and former War Correspondent, is a Consultant to International Organizations on Media, Corporate Communications, Elections and Global Affairs.