NEWS CENTRAL, Abuja – Nigeria’s two dominant political parties are set to test their strengths again on Saturday as the electorate head to the polls to elect governors in 29 states, state lawmakers in 991 constituencies and council elections in six municipalities of the capital, Abuja.
“A total of 1,082 candidates will be elected by citizens across the country. Learning from the experience of the Presidential and National Assembly elections held two weeks ago, the commission has effectively tackled the challenge of logistics.” Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission or INEC said on Thursday.
By-elections to fill seven senatorial districts and 24 federal constituencies would also be held simultaneously in 14 states to make up for the shortfalls in national parliamentary polls held on February 23.
The National Assembly polls in these areas had been disrupted by acts of ballot box snatching, refusal to use smartcard readers due to election officials held at gunpoint or over-voting characterised by violence, Yakubu said.
Parties and internal combustion
Nigeria has 91 political parties but the two dominant parties remain the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which showed their strengths two weeks ago in a keen presidential contest that saw incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari defeating Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, a former ruling party.
Since it is local elections, some regional parties are expected to make an inroad into winning political positions. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which currently has a governor, Senator, House of Representatives and state lawmakers is a party to watch especially in the southeastern region of Nigeria where it enjoys a lot of followership.
While the Social Democratic Party (SDP) may not win a governorship seat due to intra-party crises, there are high chances that it may grab some federal and state legislative seats.
Other parties expected to benefit from the internal crises within the dominant APC and the PDP are the Action Alliance (AA) in Imo state and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) in Ogun state all in Southern Nigeria.
The insurrection within the APC and PDP in those two states has seen the ruling APC suspending governors of the two states for supporting protégés in the opposition after failing to get tickets for them in the party. The PDP also expelled its “court-recognised candidate” for not allowing the party’s sanctioned candidates to prevail after primaries.
Fears of violence heighten
Fiery rhetoric among contestants and parties had made the military authorities midweek to caution politicians and their followers against inciting violence such as engaging in self-help like ballot box snatching or kidnapping electoral officials at gunpoint to announce padded results after forcefully stopping the use of smartcard readers.
“Eight card readers are missing in Sagbama Ward 1, Unit 5 and Ward 6 Unit 3, while in Yenagoa six are also missing in Wards 1, 11 and 16. Yes, about 63 card readers are missing.
“The Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Monday Udom, has issued a statement that those involved should return them to INEC on or before Wednesday,’’ INEC had said in a statement midweek announcing the loss of 63 smartcard readers snatched by armed men during the presidential election with the hope of the criminal’s using them for Saturday’s governorship polls.
The election management body has now said that such unreturned smartcard readers would be invalid and that only reprogrammed ones are expected to be used by its officials and adhoc staff deployed for the polls. It is also working closer with police and military authorities to safeguard its staff and further snatching of the smartcard readers.
But opposition PDP has kicked against the deployment of soldiers especially in the violent parts of southern Nigeria.
“The deployment of soldiers for the 2019 general elections, despite the extant ruling of the Supreme Court against such, is part of the grand plot by All Progressives Congress, APC, to use the military to suppress opposition, instil fear in the citizenry and forcefully rig the elections.”
The ruling party says the killing of some civilians by armed gangs at polling units while exercising their voting rights and even the death of soldiers in some communities like Abonnema in Rivers state by suspected gunmen has provided more incentives for the military to work closely with police and electoral officials to safeguard lives.
“Most worrisome is the attack on electoral officials. Some of our staff were abducted and taken hostage in an attempt to disrupt elections or influence the outcome. In fact, some of the supplementary elections I referred to earlier were caused by such acts of thuggery.
“I am confident that working together with the security agencies, we will consolidate on the largely peaceful conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly elections while also taking decisive steps to deal with the minority of violators intent on disrupting the conduct of peaceful elections,” INEC Chairman Yakubu said on Thursday in Abuja at the meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Elections Security (ICCES), which had in attendance police, paramilitary and military officers.