, LAGOS, Nigeria, Apr 11 – Nigeria votes in gubernatorial and state assembly polls on Saturday, bringing to an end a remarkable election cycle that saw the first win for an opposition presidential candidate in the country’s history.
Governorship elections are being held in 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states and in local assemblies in all states, with polls due to open at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) for registration and voting getting underway in the afternoon.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is hoping to retain or build on its current tally of 21 states against a strong challenge from the All Progressives Congress (APC), which currently controls 14.
But the APC could make gains after its candidate, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, won the presidential election two weeks ago.
Much of the focus will be on the financial capital Lagos, where APC candidate Akinwunmi Ambode is being pushed hard by the PDP’s Jimi Agbaje, as well as Rivers state in the oil-producing south. READ: Nigeria elects Buhari as president in historic vote.
There, animosity between APC governor Rotimi Amaechi and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan plus opposition rigging claims at the presidential vote have provided for high tension and fears of violence.
The state was on an overnight lockdown until 6:00 am to prevent trouble and there has been a high security presence in the capital, Port Harcourt, particularly outside the electoral commission office.
But Rivers state spokeswoman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Tonia Nwobi, said they were prepared to avoid the problems that overshadowed the presidential vote.
“We are hopeful the elections will be an improvement over the March 28 exercise,” she told AFP.
“We will work with the relevant security agents to ensure a hitch-free election.”
Nationwide, Nigeria’s police and security services have ordered restrictions on the movement of vehicles during polling hours and closed the country’s land borders.
Fears of poll-related violence and attacks by Boko Haram Islamists provided the backdrop for the presidential elections but despite several sporadic incidents, widespread violence did not materialise.
But the government has called for a similar level of vigilance.
INEC is once again using handheld devices to authenticate voter identities in order to cut electoral fraud that has blighted previous elections, despite some malfunctions two weeks ago.
Problems with some of the machines in recognising biometric details stored on voter ID cards, including those of President Jonathan, forced the election to go into a second day in some places.
Results of the gubernatorial and state assembly votes are expected to come in from Sunday, with winners announced in individual states.
Jonathan, 57, remains president until May 29 when Buhari, 72, is inaugurated as head of state.