Nigeria local elections open in shadow of contested national vote | News

Millions of Nigerians have headed back to the polls as Africa’s most populous nation held gubernatorial elections amid tensions after last month’s disputed presidential vote.

New governors are being chosen for 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states on Saturday as the opposition continues to reject the victory of President-elect Bola Tinubu from the West African nation’s ruling party.

Africa’s most populous nation is electing hundreds of state assembly lawmakers and governors, with a particularly competitive contest in the nation’s economic nerve centre, Lagos.

Governors are in powerful positions in Nigeria, with some controlling state budgets larger than those of several African nations.

Polling units were to be open from 8:30am (07:30 GMT) and close by 2:30pm (13:30 GMT) though delays are frequent and voters in line before closing time should still be able to vote.

Heavy security

On Friday, armed security forces were seen patrolling the streets across the states where elections were to be held.

“Ahead of the elections, the security situation across the country appears tense, with reports of violence, kidnap and assassination in several states,” Situation Room, a coalition of civil society groups, said in a statement.

Observers have said that the presidential vote was peaceful for the most part, but there are still fears of attacks in many parts of Nigeria where armed groups often carry out violent killings, such as in the northwest and southeast.

At a security meeting in Nigeria’s capital this week, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno said security forces have been deployed in all violence hotspots and officials do not envisage any major security threat.

“We must allow everyone to exercise their fundamental rights as citizens of this country. Anybody who is itching to undermine this process should please think again,” said Monguno.

Voters sit as they wait to vote
Voters wait to vote at a polling station for a gubernatorial and House of Assembly candidates during local elections, in Lagos [Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP]

Voter apathy

Despite being Africa’s largest economy and one of its top oil producers, Nigeria’s development has been stifled by endemic corruption and bad governance, which in many cases involves governors.

Nigeria’s constitution grants enormous powers to the governors, yet they are immune from any form of prosecution throughout their four-year tenure with a two-term limit.

The powers of the governors notwithstanding, polls have shown many in the West African nation do not have a high level of interest in the election and performance of governors, a trend analysts have said affects the level of accountability across the states.

“Even if we get the president right, everything else is against us — the people in the national assembly, the governors and the structural problems in terms of our constitution,” said Ayisha Osori, a director at Open Society Foundations.

As electoral material arrived at Ijaiye, in the Agbado area, about 50 voters were already forming a queue, hours before the polls opened.

One of them was Fausat Balogun, a 46-year-old trader who was eager to cast a ballot.

“I have been here since 6am (05:00 GMT) to vote for the candidates of my choice. We need fresh blood in Lagos. The old politicians have failed us,” he said.

Three political parties have emerged as frontrunners among the 18 filing governorship candidates in the 28 states. And although there are a record 87.2 million registered voters, analysts fear a repeat of the low participation in last month’s presidential vote which recorded a 26.7 percent voter turnout rate, the lowest in Nigeria’s history.

In the capital, Abuja, Kate Imadu, 26, was among many who could not vote in the presidential election despite waiting all day and into the night to cast her vote. That has made her less interested in travelling to her town in Cross River state to vote for the next governor, she said.

“What is the need of travelling when I couldn’t vote here during the presidential election?” Imadu asked, echoing the frustration of many others.

Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission has promised to address challenges that arose in last month’s election, such as the delays in voting and uploading of results, which opposition parties alleged caused the disenfranchisement of voters and the manipulation of results.

“We must work harder to overcome the challenges experienced in the last election (as) nothing else will be acceptable to Nigerians,” Mahmood Yakubu, head of the electoral body, told officials in Abuja.

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