Kano (Nigeria) – Violence and voter intimidation once again marred polls in Nigeria Saturday, as voters tried to take part in re-run governorship and state elections already postponed once because of unrest.
An opposition spokesman said some of their agents had been killed in the violence and called on election officials to cancel the vote again.
Armed men armed with machetes, knives and cudgels took over polling stations, assaulting observers and journalists in Kano, northwest Nigeria.
In Gama ward in Kano, men wielding machetes, daggers and cudgels invaded several polling stations, an AFP reporter saw, forcing voters to flee.
In the nearby towns of Bichi and Gaya armed youths dispersed voters and thumb-printed ballot papers in favour of the ruling APC, voters and party agents said.
Similar reports emerged in other states such as the north eastern Bauchi, where elections are being held.
Gama ward is seen as a decider in the re-run election. The opposition PDP said it was leading the ruling APC when the last vote was cancelled.
Journalists and observers at polling units in Gama were attacked by the armed men, an AFP reporter saw, with police saving at least one journalist from assault.
The acting chairman of the PDP in Kano, Rabiu Suleiman Bichi on Saturday called on INEC to cancel the elections.
“As I address you now, we have reports that some of our agents have been killed, vehicles burnt, property destroyed,” he said.
– ‘Democracy in trouble’ –
The director for the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, condemned Saturday’s violence in these key wards. The violence would “raise questions of the legitimacy” of the results, she said.
“Journalists and observers have been intimidated” because of a “win at all costs mentality” from politicians, she said. “Democracy is in trouble in Nigeria.”
The original elections a fortnight ago were declared invalid in some areas by Nigeria’s electoral board because of violence and disruption.
Tension was high in states such as Kano, where the result was finely balanced heading into today’s poll between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The decision by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to void March 9 elections in six states came two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari won a second term. His main rival Atiku Abubakar denounced the results as “a sham”.
INEC said violence and other irregularities had prompted voting to be cancelled in some areas of Kano and Sokoto, in the northwest; Bauchi and Adamawa in the northwest; and the central states of Benue and Plateau.
A legal challenge, however, meant that the planned election in Adamawa did not go ahead Saturday, leaving five states to vote in the re-run.
– Disputed elections –
Political tensions have frayed in Nigeria since Buhari’s re-election. Abubakar, the defeated PDP candidate, has challenged the result in an election tribunal, claiming that the results in several states were manipulated.
Election observers, citing reports of vote buying and intimidation, have criticised the organisation and running of the governorship and state elections, as well as the February 23 presidential and parliamentary polls.
Situation Room, an umbrella group of more than 70 civil society organisations monitoring the vote, has called for an independent inquiry into the entire election process.
The opposition PDP denounced INEC’s decision to halt voting in affected states, claiming it was “clearly leading the (governorship) race,” accusing INEC of collusion with the ruling party.
Regional elections are fiercely contested in Nigeria, where governors are powerful and influential figures, controlling state finances and responsible for key areas from education to health.
Buhari will hope to consolidate his re-election victory whilst the opposition PDP seeks to claw back power at the state level.
A seventh poll, in Rivers state, is to be run next month. The original count there was also suspended because of violence, INEC said.