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March 10, 2019

Counting begins in crunch Nigerian state polls


March 10, 2019

LAGOS: Vote counting began after polls closed on Saturday in keenly fought governorship and state assembly elections in Nigeria, held against a backdrop of political tensions and insecurity.

For the second time in a fortnight, Nigerians went to the polls to elect governors in 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states, all state assemblies and administrative councils in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is expected to announce the results in a few days.

Voting was mostly peaceful but there were reports of abductions, violence and vote buying, as well as at least 10 deaths before and on polling day.

The Situation Room umbrella group of more than 70 civil society monitoring organisations recorded seven deaths on Saturday, just weeks after 53 people were killed in presidential polls.

INEC meanwhile said some of its staff had been abducted by "thugs" in the southern states of Rivers and Akwa Ibom.

"We are working with the security forces to ensure they are rescued," INEC spokesman Rotimi Oyekanmi told AFP, without specifying how many were seized.

"When thugs invade our polling units and kidnap our staff there is nothing we can do but rely on security forces," he added.

Some election workers protested at the non-payment of their 10,000-naira salaries, and technical issues with biometric card readers delayed voting elsewhere.

Five journalists and two staff from the CoolWazobiaInfo FM Radio station were abducted for four hours by gunmen in military camouflage in the Rivers state capital Port Harcourt. They were later released unharmed.

Many voters as well as opposition parties complained about the "militarisation" of the vote, given the strong presence of troops on the ground.

The beaten presidential election candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, said the involvement of the military was "unconstitutional".

The PDP is hoping for victory in some of the 22 states currently run by President Muhammadu Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Governors are powerful and influential figures in Nigeria’s federal politics, controlling state finances and responsible for key areas from education to health.

They can also provide a strong collective voice in Abuja.

Political scientist Jibrin Ibrahim, from the Centre for Democracy and Development, said governorship and state assembly elections mean more to many voters than the presidential ballot.

"Most of governance functions at the state level where it has the most impact on people’s lives," he said. "The choices people make in these elections really determine the level of governance they get."

Voting patterns are often predicted to broadly mirror presidential polling. But initial indications were of a low turn-out, with the military blamed as well as voter apathy after a disorganised and delayed presidential vote in February.

Adewunmi Emoruwa, an analyst for the Gatefield Consultancy, a public affairs and media group in Abuja, said: "Local elections matter. "But what we are witnessing today are signs of eroding faith in the democratic order."

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