Nigeria, Apr 26 – Nigeria votes for state governors on Tuesday in the last of a series of landmark ballots amid deep concern over violence after presidential polls set off an explosion of deadly riots.
The vote comes after April 16 presidential elections led to widespread unrest across the mainly Muslim north of Africa\’s most populous nation, leaving more than 500 dead, according to a local rights group.
Unrest broke out despite what some observers said appeared to be Nigeria\’s cleanest vote for head of state since a return to civilian rule in 1999, with the country seeking to break from a history of deeply flawed polls.
The election won by President Goodluck Jonathan exposed deep divisions in Nigeria, particularly between the country\’s economically marginalised north and predominately Christian south, home to the oil industry.
Most of Nigeria\’s 36 states will hold governorship and state assembly polls on Tuesday amid high security, with curfews and military patrols having largely brought calm to the continent\’s largest oil producer.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party is projected to lose a number of states and many races are expected to be closely fought, raising concerns that desperate politicians may seek to rig the vote.
Some analysts believe that could set off another round of violence, with much of the initial rioting following the presidential election believed to have started over allegations of rigging.
Nigeria\’s state governors wield significant power and preside over large budgets thanks to revenue generated by the country\’s oil industry. They play influential roles in national politics, and the seats are highly sought after.
The ruling party currently controls some 27 state governorships, but they are facing tough challenges, particularly in the southwest and parts of the north.
In the southwest, the Action Congress of Nigeria opposition, which is in power in the economic capital Lagos, will be looking to gain more ground.
The Congress for Progressive Change, the party of ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who was Jonathan\’s main challenger in the presidential vote, appears set to make gains in the north.
Nigeria\’s enormous effort to hold credible polls after a series of badly flawed ballots is seen as giving a greater opening for opposition parties.
But there are fears that turnout could be reduced due to last week\’s violence, which the Red Cross estimates displaced some 74,000 people.
"Some people may not necessarily turn out fearing an outbreak of violence," said Musa Rafsanjani, director of the Civil Society Legislative Centre.
Jonathan, a southern Christian, defeated Buhari, a Muslim from the north, by a score of 57 percent to 31 percent.
There were allegations of rigging in the country\’s north, including from Buhari himself, though observers hailed the election as a major step forward for Nigeria.
Some in the north reportedly burnt their voting cards in anger after Jonathan\’s victory, prompting religious leaders in the region to go on radio appealing for people not to do so.
Nigeria\’s bid to hold credible elections this month has seen considerable success so far despite the violence.
A completely new voter list was compiled with the use of electronic fingerprinting and various safeguards were put in place in an effort to prevent election-day rigging and ballot-box snatching.
Observers note that serious problems remain, but say the parliamentary elections on April 9 — which had to be postponed from April 2 — and the presidential vote were significant improvements over recent years.
Not all states will be voting Tuesday. Kaduna and Bauchi states will hold their state elections on Thursday due to deadly unrest there.
A total of 26 states, including Kaduna and Bauchi, will hold governorship ballots this week, while all 36 will hold state assembly polls.
The other 10 states will not hold governorship ballots at this time because of court cases over previous election results that delayed the start of governors\’ terms of office.