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Nigeria’s opposition cries foul and pushes back in state elections

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Friday, 15 March 2019 16:22

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) workers during the Nigeria's governorship and state assembly election at the Gwarinpa ward in Abuja, Nigeria March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The power map is changing in Nigeria amid growing concerns about badly run elections and clashes over politics and resources in the Niger Delta and the Middle Belt.

Credibility of elections dented

International monitoring groups, including the European Union (EU), accused of treading too softly over the presidential and national assembly elections on 23 February, have bolstered their critiques of the governorship and state assembly elections on 9 March.

Local and international monitoring groups lament the low participation of women and youth in the elections.

The EU’s preliminary report argued that “systematic failings” and “electoral security problems” would require “serious reform”.

After its big losses in the presidential and national assembly votes last month, the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was able in the gubernatorial and state assembly elections on 9 March to consolidate power in the Delta and the south-east. It is making inroads into the south-west and the north-west.

This power shift signals the following:

  • The re-emergence of the opposition PDP as national force beyond its bailiwick in the south-south and south-east;
  • Growing weight of demands for constitutional restructuring – changing balance of power between states and the centre; and
  • Consolidation of PDP power in the oil-producing south-south, giving it political leverage and financial resources to challenge the governing party’s power at the centre.

How the parties line up in the states

In a bitter contest, the PDP has won 9 states so far, against 13 for the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), according to official results.

But in a further six states where the results were deemed “inconclusive” by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the PDP was ahead in:

  • Adamawa – north-east – Umaru Fintiri
  • Bauchi – north-west – Bala Mohammed
  • Benue – north central – Samuel Ortom
  • Kano  – north-west – Abba Yusuf
  • Sokoto – north-west – Aminu Tambuwal

And the APC was ahead in:

  • Plateau – north central – Simon Lilong

INEC says it will re-run elections in those six states on 23 March.

Elections were judged to be inconclusive where the number of cancelled votes exceeds the winner’s margin of victory over the runner-up .

But the accountability of the process has been criticised by opposition activists and civic groups.

The EU report raises wider questions about the sharp rise in the number of cancelled or inconclusive elections. It was almost four times more this year than in 2015.

Voting in gubernatorial elections in Rivers State, the richest state in the Delta, was suspended following clashes between party militants and security forces.

Nyesom Wike, the incumbent governor and the PDP candidate, is claiming a decisive victory.

Worsening violence in the Delta could threaten President Muhammadu Buhari’s plans for economic revival in his second term, due to the government’s dependence on oil and gas revenue from the region.

The spectre of violence haunts the elections

Local monitoring groups say that as many as 300 people were killed from the start of the election campaign last October until the governorship elections on 9 March. This makes the elections among the most violent in Africa.

The Situation Room, a local election monitoring organisation, says that at least 59 people have died in election-related violence since the presidential vote on 23 February. Most of the clashes have been in the Niger Delta, with a few incidents in Kano State, where counting was suspended.

The authoritative Lagos-based political risk consultancy SBMorgen (SBM) monitored incidents between 14 October 2018 and 20 February 2019 (three days before the presidential elections). It identified 67 specific violent incidents in which 233 people died: all of them had a direct relation to the national election campaign, reported SBM.

Most of the clashes – 30 – were in the oil-producing south-south region, but the highest number of deaths – 74 – were in the north central, which has been wracked by fights over land between herders and farmers. In many cases, local politicians have exploited those clashes to shore up their bases.

However, the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations says that election-related violence was lower during the campaign in 2019 compared with 2015.

Will these concerns affect politics in the petro-state?

They are unlikely to affect the election tribunals, especially the PDP’s petition against Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the presidential elections.

But they show a groundswell of support for constitutional, electoral and political reform. Those calls are getting louder from activists across the political spectrum.


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