Nigeria local elections underway in shadow of contested vote
- The weeks after the ruling party won the presidential elections in Nigeria, local elections are underway.
- The west African nation is electing more than 900 state assembly lawmakers and 28 governors.
- Nigerian governors are powerful positions in the country.
Nigerians were voting in local elections Saturday, three weeks after the ruling party won a presidential poll that the opposition alleged was marred by fraud.
Africa’s most populous nation is electing more than 900 state assembly lawmakers and 28 governors, with a particularly competitive contest in the commercial capital Lagos.
Governors are powerful positions in Nigeria, with some controlling state budgets that are larger than those of several African nations.
Polling units were scheduled to open at 8:30 am (0730 GMT) and close by 2:30 pm (1330 GMT) though delays are frequent and voters in line before closing time should still be able to vote.
After last month’s presidential poll, which was largely peaceful but marked by long delays and technical failures, some voters and opposition parties claimed the mishaps allowed for ballot manipulation.
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Both the Labour Party (LP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are contesting the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February 25 election in a legal battle that could extend over several months.
The electoral commission has rejected claims of rigging but the experience could impact Saturday’s vote, which was delayed by a week for technical reasons.
On Lagos’s wealthy Ikoyi island, polling units were set up early, giving some residents hope for a hitch-free day.
“We hope this election will be one of the better elections,” said Sukiman Abubakar, a 52-year-old estate surveyor.
On the mainland, heavy security was deployed with armoured vehicles seen by an AFP reporter at Iyana-Ipaaja and Abulegba, areas prone to violence.
‘Opportunity for change’
At Ijaiye in the Agbado area of Lagos, 46-year-old trader Fausat Balogun was eager to cast a ballot.
“I have been here since 6 am (0500 GMT) to vote for the candidates of my choice. We need fresh blood in Lagos. The old politicians have failed us,” he said.
While the megacity of some 20 million people is considered the fiefdom of president-elect Bola Tinubu, outsider Peter Obi of the LP caused a stir on Ferbuary 25 by winning most votes in the state thanks to widespread support from Nigeria’s youth.
One of Obi’s supporters who showed up to vote on Saturday in the Agidiigbi Ikeja area was Damilola Adisa, a 20-year-old economics student.
While her candidate lost the presidential race, the first-time voter said she sees “this election too as an opportunity for a change.”
Most states are currently governed either by the APC or the PDP whose leader Atiku Abubakar came in second in the presidential elections.
But whether Obi’s growing popularity and the emergence of the LP as a third force in Nigerian politics will translate at the governorship and local assembly levels, especially in Lagos where its former governor Tinubu is influential, remains to be seen.
The Lagos race pits incumbent Babajide Sanwo-Olu (APC) against Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour (LP) and Olajide Adediran (PDP).
Other hotly-contested races are expected in southern Rivers and northern Kano, while northeast Adamawa could see the election of Nigeria’s first woman governor.
A decisive factor in Saturday’s election will be turnout — though more than 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote, just over 24 million cast a ballot in February.
With many people hoping for a new leadership capable of tackling growing insecurity and deepening poverty but disappointed in how last month’s election was conducted, some voters could decide to stay at home.
In Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria and second biggest pool of voters after Lagos, some improvements were noted according to residents.
“Voting started at 08:30… It is quite orderly and the queues are not as long as in the previous election,” said Ahmad Awwalu, a 27-year-old motorcycle mechanic before casting his ballot at Hotoro Primary School.
“This is a great improvement compared to the mess we experienced during the presidential election.”
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Election observers Yiaga Africa also noted “a marked improvement in the management of election logistics” despite some “incidences of voter intimidation and harassment.”
In several areas of Kano, thugs showed up at polling units to intimidate voters and in some cases destroyed electoral material, according to local media and election observers.
Vote buying was also reported in at least eight different states, Yiaga Africa said.
Electoral violence and bribes for votes are recurring problems in Nigeria, worsened this year by a lack of cash following a botched currency swap.