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Nigeria local elections open in shadow of contested national vote

Millions of Nigerians went back to the polls as Africa’s most populous country held gubernatorial elections amid tensions following last month’s contentious presidential election.

New governors will be elected on Saturday for 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states as the opposition continues to reject the victory of President-elect Bola Tinubu of the West African country’s ruling party.

Africa’s most populous nation elects hundreds of state legislators and governors, with a highly competitive contest in the nation’s economic nerve center, Lagos.

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

Polling stations would open from 08:30 (07:30 GMT) and close at 14:30 (13:30 GMT), although there are often delays and voters queuing before closing should still be able to vote.

Heavy security

On Friday, armed security forces patrolled the streets of the states where elections were to be held.

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

Observers have said the presidential election was largely peaceful, but fears of attacks remain in many parts of Nigeria, where armed groups often commit violent killings, such as in the northwest and southeast.

Speaking at a security meeting this week in Nigeria’s capital, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno said security forces have been deployed in all violent hotspots and officials do not foresee any major threat to security.

“We must allow everyone to exercise their fundamental rights as citizens of this country. Anyone bent on undermining this process should please think again,” Monguno said.

Voters wait to vote at a polling station for a governor and House of Representatives candidates during local elections, in Lagos (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP)

Voter apathy

Despite being Africa’s largest economy and one of its major oil producers, Nigeria’s development is stifled by endemic corruption and poor governance, in many cases involving governors.

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

Despite the governors’ powers, polls have shown that many in the West African country are not very interested in the election and performance of governors, a trend that analysts say is affecting the level of accountability in 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 issues in terms of our constitution,” said Ayisha Osori, a director of Open Society Foundations.

When the election materials arrived in Ijaiye, in the Agbado area, about 50 voters had already lined up hours before the polls opened.

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

“I have been here since 06:00 (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 the frontrunners among the 18 candidate gubernatorial candidates in the 28 states. And while there is a record 87.2 million registered voters, analysts fear a repeat of low turnout in last month’s presidential election, which registered a turnout rate of 26.7 percent, the lowest in Nigeria’s history.

In the capital, Abuja, Kate Imadu, 26, was one of many who were unable to vote in the presidential election despite waiting all day and night to cast her vote. That has made her less interested in traveling to her town in Cross River state to vote for the next governor, she said.

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

Nigeria’s Independent National Election Commission has pledged to address challenges that arose during last month’s election, such as the delays in voting and uploading of results, which opposition parties claimed caused voter encroachment and the manipulation of results .

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