Nigeria: Voting Called Off In Troubled Spots As Nigerians Elect Lawmakers

By Paul Ejime, PANA Staff Correspondent, 6 December 1997

LAGOS, Nigeria (PANA) — Voting got off to a very slow start Saturday as Nigerians elect lawmakers for the country’s 36-state assemblies and the authorities have postponed balloting in troubled council areas.

The Osun State administrator, Lt. Col. Anthony Obi, ordered voting suspended in Ife East and Ife Central council areas, scenes of renewed fighting between two Yoruba ethnic strains, the Ife and Modakeke people, in western Nigeria.

Four days of fresh fighting over government relocation of a council headquarters in the area has reportedly left a dozen people dead and caused substantial damage to property. There has been sporadic violence in the area since October.

The elections had been suspended earlier in the four council areas of Warri in the mid-western state of Delta, for similar reasons.

The state assemblies’ polls are part of a series under the plan by administration of Gen. Sani Abacha move Nigeria from military to civilian rule latest end October 1998.

Some 55 million registered voters in this nation of 100 million people are voting to choose a total 989 legislators for the 36 states.

But the polls are also not taking place in the nation’s capital, Abuja, which is federal territory.

In Lagos, the nation’s economic hub of some six million people, voting was marked by initial poor turn out in several polling centres, although polling officials said the situation would improve.

“We expect more people to come out to cast their ballots before the close of voting at 1500 hours,” a polling official said at Maryland, along the route to the city’s international airport.

Similar situations prevailed at polling stations in the high-brow Ikoyi and Victoria Island neighbourhoods, on Lagos Island.

But turn out was fairly impressive in the city’s densely populated areas of Musin and Ajegunle.

Voting has been generally orderly with police and voluntary agencies such as the boy scouts ensuring security.

Nigeria’s defence headquarters in Lagos said soldiers were barred from the polling stations. Observers said the measure was to stem accusations of meddling or partisanship.

Following the restriction of movement for seven hours between 0800 and 1500 hours for the duration of the voting, Lagos, traditionally famous for its traffic jams, was like a ghost town Saturday with few vehicles on the roads.

Youths took advantage of the situation and turned many open spaces into soccer fields. Reports from other parts of the country said no major incident had been reported.

Five government-approved political parties are vying for the 989 seats. These are the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNPC), the Democratic Party of Nigeria, the National Centre Party of Nigeria, the Congress for National Consensus and the Grassroots Democratic Movement.

The UNCP captured at least 300 of the total 776 council seats in the March 15 municipal elections. But the other four parties are contesting that result saying this state assembly poll would show the true strength of each party.

The polls are to be followed in April 1998 by elections for the federal legislature, then the state gubernatorial and crucial presidential elections in August, ahead of the planned installation of elected civilians Oct. 1, 1998.

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