Nigerians return to the polls on Saturday to elect new state governors and state parliamentarians, with many focusing on the race in commercial hub Lagos and how the electoral body conducts voting after criticism of its handling of last month’s disputed presidential election.
Governors wield enormous influence in Africa’s most populous nation of more than 200 million and their support often decides who becomes president. Some governors preside over states whose annual budgets are bigger than some small African countries.
The electoral commission postponed the governor’s poll by a week, saying it needed more time to reconfigure electronic voting machines that are at the centre of the dispute over the presidential vote won by Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party.
The main opposition People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) Atiku Abubakar and Labour Party’s Peter Obi rejected it as fraudulent and will challenge the results in court.
Voters will choose governors in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states. New state assemblies will also be elected in all the states.
The race that has generated the most interest is in Lagos, Tinubu’s home state where he is nicknamed the “godfather” for his enduring political influence.
Tinubu governed Lagos from 1999 to 2007 and has gone on to play a major role in picking every successor since.
Obi, whose support came from young and urban voters, beat Tinubu in Lagos last month. That has buoyed his Labour Party, which is aiming to dethrone APC from running the state.
The ruling APC’s incumbent Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who has been in the Lagos state government for the past two decades, faces a strong challenge from Labour Party’s Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, an architecture and political activist.
At stake is control of an annual $4 billion budget and running Africa’s largest mega city of more than 20 million, home to some of the country’s billionaires, including Aliko Dangote who is building a multi-billion dollar oil refining complex.
But Lagos is also teeming with poverty as millions live in slums without power and running water, and residents, rich and poor, have to endure daily traffic jams and pollution.
Nigerians will also be watching the race in northeastern Adamawa, a conservative and largely Muslim state, which could produce the country’s first elected female governor.
The conduct of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will once again come under scrutiny after its handling of last month’s presidential and parliamentary election that had a record-low voter turnout.
Reuters reported that observers from the European Union, the Commonwealth and other bodies reported several problems during that election, among them failures in systems designed to prevent vote manipulation, and criticised the INEC for poor planning and voting delays. But they did not allege fraud.
There were fewer cases of electoral violence last month but concern still remains about possible clashes in states like Kano in the north and oil-producing Rivers in the south, which have experienced post-election violence in the past.
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