Police in Nigeria’s southern Rivers State on Friday arrested an opposition party lawmaker with almost half a million dollars in cash “for distribution” just hours before polls opened.
Nearly 90 million people are eligible to vote on Saturday for a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari who is stepping down after two terms and leaving the country grappling with a security crisis and a sluggish economy.
The race is expected to be tight between the three frontrunners: Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and outsider Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP).
In oil-rich Rivers State, police said that during a stop and search operation it had arrested a lawmaker with a bag of cash it suspected was for buying votes.
“Police Officers from Rivers State Command… arrested one Honorable Chinyere Igwe, member (of the) House of Representatives (from the PDP) with a cash sum of 498,100 USD inside a bag,” police spokeswoman Grace Iringe-Koko said.
“Also recovered was a list for distribution of the money,” she added in a statement that was accompanied by a picture of the suspect with piles of dollar bills.
In a separate haul, authorities in Lagos State said on Friday that it had discovered the equivalent of $70,300 in the local naira currency that it also “suspected (was) to be used for vote buying”.
In what it called a “massive operation”, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission intercepted “N32,400,000 (Thirty-two Million, Four Hundred Thousand Naira),” the agency said on its Facebook page.
Nigerian elections have often been marked by vote-buying.
In a bid to address the issue, and reduce the amount of cash outside the banking system, the central bank issued new naira notes in December, giving Nigerians just a few weeks to replace old ones.
It also issued a much smaller amount of bills, making the policy highly unpopular as most people rely on cash for food and transport.
The currency swap has left many Nigerians desperate to get hold of cash, just days before a crucial vote in Africa’s most populous country.