ABUJA, Nigeria — Millions of Nigerians voted to elect state governors on Saturday but faced intimidation and violence in some cities as tensions rose after a disputed presidential election in Africa’s most populous country last month.
New governors were elected for 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states as political opposition continued to oppose the election victory of President-elect Bola Tinubu, who is part of the ruling All Progressives Congress party.
The performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission “has improved significantly compared to the February 25 election, but violence has been much more intense across the country,” said Idayat Hassan, head of the Center for Democracy and Development, Nigeria’s largest democracy center group.
Local monitor group YIAGA Africa said it found several instances where voters were intimidated and prevented from voting unless they agreed to cast their ballot for specific political parties.
Among the places listed was the state of Lagos, where the president-elect’s party is trying to retain the governorship. The All Progressives Congress lost the state in last month’s presidential and general elections.
“Security agencies should promptly respond to reports of voter intimidation and attacks on polling stations to allow citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Samson Itodo, executive director of YIAGA Africa, said in a statement.
PHOTOS: Nigeria elects governors after contentious presidential election
Allegations of vote-buying were also widespread. In Enugu, voters were intimidated and lured with just 200 naira (US$0.43), according to Chidimma Igwe, who voted in the state.
“They (party officials) will follow you straight into the ballot box to see who you voted for. If you vote for PDP (one of the political parties) you will get 200 naira,” Igwe said.
Many Nigerians are struggling to survive after an ongoing currency swap program left them with a cash shortage.
In Delta state, suspected thugs disrupted voting in Ughelli and damaged some ballot papers, according to Apkozie Emmanuel, a resident.
“Even the police were overwhelmed; they just stood aside,” Emmanuel said.
A record 87.2 million people were registered to vote, but observers reported a low turnout on Saturday, perhaps even lower than in February’s election. The turnout of 26.7% last month was the lowest in Nigerian history.
Although Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and one of the largest oil producers, endemic corruption and poor governance have stifled the country’s development. The Nigerian Constitution grants state governors tremendous powers that are protected from criminal prosecution during their tenure.
The prospect of holding the authority accorded the governor makes many politicians eager to be elected as one, said Hassan of the Center for Democracy and Development.
However, polls have shown that many citizens do not care much about the election or performance of governors, a trends analyst said 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 surrounding our constitution,” said Ayisha Osori, director at Open Society Foundations, a nonprofit organization.
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