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Nigerian Ruling Party Keeps Powerful Lagos Post After Tense Local Polls

Intimidation and violence were reported in some Nigerian states during the local elections

Nigeria’s ruling party has held onto the powerful post of Lagos governor, the country’s electoral commission said on Monday, following weekend local elections marred by reports of violence and vote buying.

So far, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has been declared winner in the majority of governorships where ballot counting has been completed.

Governors are powerful figures in Nigeria and some control state budgets that are larger than those of several African nations.

Saturday’s elections for 28 governors and more than 900 state assembly lawmakers came three weeks after the governing party won a presidential ballot that opposition candidates claim was massively rigged.

Outsider Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) caused a stir in the February 25 election by gaining the most votes in Lagos, considered an APC fiefdom.

But he came only third nationwide and APC candidate Bola Tinubu was declared president-elect.

Both Obi and second-placed candidate Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are contesting the presidential result in court.

The key question on Saturday was whether Obi’s growing popularity, especially among Nigeria’s youth, would translate into success at the local polls.

But the APC’s Babajide Sanwo-Olu scored a landslide re-election as Lagos governor, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said.

The incumbent won more than twice the number of votes of LP candidate Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour and more than 10 times those of PDP hopeful Olajide Adediran.

He also passed the required threshold of 25 percent of votes across two-thirds of the state, the INEC said.

So far, the APC has won the governorship races in the states of Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Kwara, Nasawara, Ogun, Sokoto and Yobe.

The PDP has won in Oyo, Bauchi and Akwa Ibom.

In the highly contested state of Kano, the economic heart of the mainly Muslim north, thousands of supporters of the smaller New Nigeria People’s Party took to the streets to celebrate their trouncing the APC.

“The victory of NNPP is a victory for Kano because the will of the people has prevailed despite attempts to subvert it,” said Hajara Sani, 23, who was watching the crowds.

Results were still pending on Monday in the key southern state of Rivers. Adamawa, in the northeast, could see the election of Nigeria’s first woman governor.

Head of state Muhammadu Buhari of the APC is stepping down in May after two terms and critics were hoping the presidential ballot would bring change.

But many were disappointed by the way the February election was conducted and turnout for Saturday’s local polls was low.

Voters and opposition parties complained in February that technical mishaps allowed for vote rigging, which the electoral commission has denied.

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), which observed Saturday’s poll, noted in parts of the country “a sense of discouragement that due to the unfavourable outcome of the presidential election ‘there is no point’ coming out to vote”.

Despite signs of low turnout, observer group Yiaga Africa said it had recorded “significant improvement in the management of election logistics” on Saturday.

Nigeria’s new president and governors will take office at a time when Africa’s most populous country and largest economy is struggling with growing insecurity and widening poverty.

Polling units mostly opened on time and both the biometric registration machines and online portal to view results functioned relatively well, both Yiaga Africa and the CDD said.

But violence was recorded across several states, with thugs showing up at polling units to intimidate voters and in some cases destroying electoral material.

In southeast Imo State, where armed separatist groups are active, a group of ad hoc electoral staff were taken hostage on Saturday morning. They were quickly rescued but election material went missing.

In Lagos, the CDD said there were reports in the Lagbasa and Ajah areas of “voters being flogged”.

Amnesty International warned these tactics were being “used to scare people from voting”.

“Many ended up with severe injuries… This is unacceptable and must be investigated thoroughly,” the rights group said on Twitter.

As a result of tensions, voting was postponed until Sunday at some polling stations in Lagos and Rivers State.

“Processes were disrupted by actors over whom we have little or no control,” INEC official Festus Okoye said on Sunday evening.

He condemned the violence and said “allegations of voter inducement, harassment and manipulation of results will be reviewed and addressed”.

Vote buying was more rampant than during the presidential election, observers reported earlier in the day.

Party agents were seen giving out 1,000 naira (about two dollars) in exchange for votes, as well as spaghetti, fabric and alcohol, Yiaga Africa said.

The APC's Babajide Sanwo-Olu hung on to the powerful post of Lagos governor
The APC’s Babajide Sanwo-Olu hung on to the powerful post of Lagos governor