Abuja - Nigeria can hold elections in February even if Boko Haram violence makes voting impossible in parts of the northeast, the elections chief told AFP, arguing that the disenfranchisement of thousands of people would not undermine the entire vote.
Attahiru Jega, who heads the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said he was preparing to organise polling in the three states under emergency rule because of the extremist attacks.
Based on current security assessments, the 57-year-old former academic said it was "inconceivable" that unrest could prevent voting throughout Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
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But even if the security services ruled out polling stations in areas where the crisis is most intense - including much of Borno and parts of Yobe - the overall credibility of the vote would remain intact, he added.
"I want us... to get one thing clear: not doing an election in one state, it is unlikely to affect the outcome of the election nationally," he said in an interview in Abuja.
Massive military deployment
Boko Haram is believed to be in control of more than two dozen towns and villages in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa although the situation could change significantly before polling day on 14 February 2015.
The United Nations has said that more than 600 000 people have been displaced by the conflict and will face huge challenges to return to their home districts to vote.
President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to declare his re-election bid in the coming weeks and analysts say the conflict-wracked northeast will vote overwhelmingly against him.
Human rights lawyer Festus Keyamo agreed with Jega that the de facto disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of likely opposition voters would not necessarily nullify the presidential result, especially if the margins are wide.
But, he said, Senate and lower house results in the affected areas would be invalid.
Some analysts have voiced concern that securing the northeast on election day will require a massive military deployment, leaving other flashpoint areas vulnerable, especially the religiously divided central states which have seen political violence before.
A cleaner election
Jega is one of a handful of public officials in corruption-ridden Nigeria who is broadly viewed as impartial and perhaps even incorruptible.
He earned a doctorate in political science from Northwestern University outside Chicago and held an array of academic posts in the West and Nigeria before Jonathan appointed him to head INEC in 2010.
While the 2011 general election was marred by irregularities and hundreds were killed in post-poll violence, Jega was applauded for organising a reasonably credible process in a nation of 170 million people with just a year to prepare.
But he said the widespread fraud last time round was unacceptable and must be eliminated in 2015.
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Voter registration was a mess, he said, with millions of dead people still on the electoral roll and inadequate voter verification systems.
Voter cards were bought and sold, ballot papers stolen from one district and taken to another, he continued.
Biometric registration, colour-coded ballots and other systems will ensure "that 2015 general elections will be much, much better than the 2011 elections", he said.
There however remains a huge amount of rot in the system and too many politicians still "want to win by hook or by crook", he added.
INEC has evidence of election fraud against more than one million people but lacks the resources to prosecute them.
Jega said he expected some candidates to attempt foul play again in 2015 but pledged that his staff was ready to crack down.
"What we did was learn where the gaps were and then tried to ensure that these gaps are blocked so no one can exploit them again," he said.