, ASABA, Jan 6 – Nigerians vote on Thursday in a key state governor\’s ballot seen as a test ahead of April\’s nationwide elections, with massive security deployed amid fears of further violence.
The governor\’s election in Delta State, located in the main oil-producing Niger Delta region, comes after a court invalidated the result of the 2007 vote after fraud allegations and ordered a re-run just months before a new ballot.
Nigeria has been hit by a series of attacks in recent weeks, including bomb blasts in the capital Abuja and the central city of Jos, and authorities were on high alert ahead of the opening of polls at noon (1100 GMT).
The Niger Delta region has long been hit by unrest by criminal gangs and militants claiming to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue.
An election office was burnt three days ago in the Delta State town of Ughelli. Twin bomb blasts also hit a political rally in the neighbouring state of Bayelsa a week ago.
"We have deployed 22,600 regular policemen" in addition to bomb experts and more than 2,800 riot police, Delta State police spokesman Charles Muka told AFP. "It is the largest contingent ever deployed for a state election."
Some 1.5 million people were eligible to vote, officials said.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan visited the state this week to campaign for Emmanuel Uduaghan, a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party who was governor until the recent court ruling deposed him.
The vote will be a major test for the country\’s recently installed electoral commission, which faces major challenges in organising April\’s polls in Africa\’s most populous nation.
"We know it (the January 6 poll) is a test case. It will be the first election we are organising since we came into office," electoral commission head Attahiru Jega said in a recent television interview.