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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Emerge at Top in Race For Nigerian Presidency

ABUJA, Nigeria -- A former military dictator, the current vice president and a state governor backed by the departing president have emerged as the top three candidates in Nigeria's troubled presidential elections scheduled for Saturday.

In a field of 25, General Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Atiku Abubakar both lead opposition parties, while Umaru Yar'Adua is the favorite of current President Olusegun Obasanjo, who must leave after two terms by constitutional term limits.

All three are Muslims from the north, in keeping with an informal arrangement rotating power between southern Christians and northern Muslims.

Yar'Adua, the candidate of Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party, is favored to win. His party's power was underlined by its showing in April 14 state elections, in which its candidates won more than 21 of 36 governorships.

Yar'Adua, 56, is a little-known governor from northern Katsina state, where camels and herds of cattle roam the countryside and criminals and adulterers are sentenced to stoning or whipping under Islamic law. His supporters say the former chemistry professor would bring a measured, analytical style to power as Nigeria's first college-educated leader.

Yar'Adua hails from a notable northern political family. His older brother was the deputy when Obasanjo was a military ruler in the 1970s. Yet Umaru Yar'Adua only entered national politics late last year, when Obasanjo shoved aside more prominent contenders at a party nomination conference to ensure Yar'Adua's selection.

Critics contend he's a puppet, selected to prevent investigations into the misuse of tens of billions of dollars of government oil revenues. But Yar'Adua promises he will be his own man if elected. "I am amazed and amused when people say these things. There is no way you can govern a state or a federation or any nation by proxy -- it just doesn't work," Yar'Adua told reporters recently.

Up against Yar'Adua is retired General Buhari, 64. In 1983, having attended military academies in the United States, India and Britain, Buhari was nominated to be the nation's ruler by a group of officers who started a coup. His no-nonsense military rule established strong anti-corruption credentials and made him a household name. "Integrity" and "security" are his buzzwords.

"There will be discipline," promised the father of nine in a recent interview, sitting in his trademark simple robes by a rumpled bed in a hotel room.

The wild card in the mix is Vice President Atiku Abubakar, 60, who was orphaned at age 8 but rose through the ranks of the Nigerian customs service and eventually became a wealthy businessman. He was only cleared to run by the Nigerian Supreme Court on Monday, when the court ruled that the national electoral commission had no jurisdiction to exclude him over corruption allegations.

The allegations, which Abubakar denies, originated with Obasanjo. The former allies fell out after Abubakar opposed a failed effort by Obasanjo's supporters to overturn constitutional term limits to allow Obasanjo to run again.

His key campaign planks are similar to those of the other two candidates and, like rival platforms, lack detail.

The tangle of court cases has cost him precious campaigning time and he has criticized the electoral process for months. "This is an election that is being schemed to be stolen," he said recently in Abuja.