Nigeria's Buhari looks to consolidate at state polls
LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigerians on Saturday, March 9, voted for a second time in a fortnight in governorship and state assembly elections, as monitors expressed concerns about political violence, vote-buying and an increased military presence.
Elections for governors were being held in 29 of Nigeria's 36 states, for all state assemblies, plus the administrative councils in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.
Voting was mostly peaceful but there were reports of vandalism, violence and vote buying, including deaths on Friday night, March 8.
Some election workers also protested at the non-payment of their salaries while voting was delayed because of technical issues with biometric card readers.
The Situation Room umbrella of more than 70 civil society monitoring groups warned about an "escalation of violence between and within political parties and their supporters".
In several states the "partisanship of security agencies" and "an intimidating presence of military personnel," was a concern the group said, reporting that military fighter jets had been deployed in parts of the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari will be expecting to consolidate his victory on February 23, when he won 19 states to secure a second, 4-year term of office.
His All Progressives Congress (APC) currently controls 22 states while the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has 13.
The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has one.
Governors are powerful and influential figures in Nigeria's federal politics, controlling state finances, where they are responsible for key areas including education to health.
They can also provide a strong collective voice in Abuja.
State-level elections are often predicted to broadly mirror presidential polling and this year come amid concerns about the role of security forces during the vote.
Deaths and disruption
Similar incidents of disruption and unrest hit last month's polling when at least 53 people were killed, with fears that safety could hit turnout this time round.
Two people were killed and 35 vehicles destroyed in violence between party supporters in the southwest state of Lagos on Friday, the Situation Room said.
In the southern states of Ebonyi and Bayelsa, two people were killed in each state, according to local reports, with a further 3 killed in the volatile state of Rivers, according to transport minister Rotimi Amaechi.
The director for the Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, said there were improvements from the last poll but challenges remained.
"We've seen reports of the burning of election equipment, intimidation and lots of incidences of vote-buying," she told Agence France-Presse, adding there was a risk it could "undermine the vote".
The electoral commission INEC meanwhile said tens of thousands of voters could be affected by fires at its offices in the southern states of Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi, and central Benue.
The Situation Room said last month's poll did not meet the minimum standard for a credible election, although most domestic and international observers disagreed.
Delays in voting and disruption in parts of the country saw the PDP and its beaten candidate Atiku Abubakar brand the results a "sham" and take legal action.
The party has especially questioned the use of troops, which are not responsible for election security, citing reports soldiers had blocked voters from polling units.
Tensions have been running high since the electoral commission postponed the scheduled vote for a week just hours before it was due to begin on February 16.
That prompted the two main parties to accuse each other of conspiring to rig the result.
Nigeria has a history of electoral violence, particularly Rivers, in the heart of the oil-producing southern delta.
Transport minister Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers, confirmed three people were killed on Friday, including a local government chairman.
"The killings happened because the military were not on ground," he said after he voted in his home town.
"We have not heard of any killings today since the military have been deployed."
The PDP governor, Nyesom Wike, had accused the military of complicity in the killing of 16 people in the Abonnema area of the state.
Adding to tensions this time is a court ruling barring any APC candidates from standing in the gubernatorial election because of procedural irregularities in the selection process.
An AFP reporter in the Rivers state capital, Port Harcourt, said there was a heavy military presence on the streets. – Rappler.com