Vote counting was underway in Nigeria on Sunday following local elections marred by reports of violence, bribery and signs of low turnout.
Saturday’s election for more than 900 state assembly lawmakers and 28 governors in Africa’s most populous country took place three weeks after the governing party won a presidential race that opposition groups said was rigged.
With President Muhammadu Buhari stepping down in May after two terms, many hoping for change were disappointed in the way the voting was conducted on February 25, a sentiment that could have impacted the local contests.
Both the Labour Party (LP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenged the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC), claiming that technical mishaps allowed for ballot manipulation, which the electoral commission has denied.
After observing Saturday’s vote, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) noted in parts of the country “a sense of discouragement that due to the unfavourable outcome of the presidential election ‘there is no point’ of coming out to vote”.
However, another observer group, Yiaga Africa, recorded “a marked improvement in the management of election logistics” on Saturday.
Polling units mostly opened on time and biometric registration machines seemed “to largely be functioning adequately”, CDD said.
In the commercial capital Lagos, where the race for state governor is particularly competitive, some voters were optimistic about the election being free and fair.
“I am pleased with the counting so far… I hope INEC will do what is normal and declare the rightful candidate as the winner,” said 25-year-old nurse Bimpe Adepeju, referring to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
– Beatings and arrests –
Outsider Peter Obi of the LP caused a stir last month by winning the most votes in Lagos state, considered the fiefdom of president-elect Bola Tinubu of the APC.
But whether the growing popularity of Obi, who came in third nationwide, will translate at the governorship and local assembly levels remains to be seen.
Tinubu is highly influential in Lagos, where his party’s candidate Babajide Sanwo-Olu is running for re-election against Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour (LP) and Olajide Adediran (PDP).
While some results for state assembly seats trickled in on Sunday, those for governorship races were not yet available.
Other hotly contested races took place in southern Rivers and northern Kano, while northeast Adamawa could see the election of Nigeria’s first woman as governor.
Violence was recorded in several locations on Saturday, with groups showing up at polling units in Kano and elsewhere 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, and while they were quickly rescued, election material went missing.
In Lagos, “in the Lagbasa and Ado primary school in Ajah, there were reports of voters being flogged”, according to the CDD.
Amnesty International warned that 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 in some sites — in Eti Osa district of Lagos and in Asari-Toru and Degema districts of Rivers State — and are scheduled to take place on Sunday.
Instances of vote buying was also more rampant than during the presidential election, observers reported.
Party agents were seen giving out 1,000 naira (about two dollars) in exchange for votes, as well as provisions of spaghetti, fabric and alcohol, Yiaga Africa said.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said on Saturday that it had arrested “no fewer than 65 persons… for alleged voter inducement”.