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POLITICS-NIGERIA: Ruling Party Consolidates Power in Local Elections

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Mar 30 2004 (IPS) - The ruling People’s Democratic Party in Nigeria has won local elections in almost all the 31 states where polls were held this weekend – even as election-related violence claimed up to 50 lives.

Low voter turnout signaled a lack of confidence in the electoral process, with many people convinced that state officials would use fair means and foul to ensure a victory by the party in power, in that state.

“It was a forgone conclusion that it would be a waste of time to file out to vote,” said Remi Anifowose, a political scientist at the University of Lagos. “Many people just conceded it to the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) or ruling parties in the different states.”

The All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), the main opposition group, managed victories in Kano, Kebbi and Sokoto states, all in northern Nigeria. Further south, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) won control of Lagos state. Other parties had boycotted the poll in this region to protest the fact that elections were being held in newly created constituencies.

National government said it had to formally approve these constituencies before polls could be held in them – a claim disputed by state authorities.

Itse Sagay, a constitutional lawyer, believes the states have right on their side in this matter. “The National Assembly has to amend the constitution to reflect the new local governments, and until that is done they cannot approve funds to the new ones from the federation account,” he said.

“But the creation and existence of new councils is the state government’s responsibility. The states can fund the new councils from federal allocations to the old councils,” Sagay added.

Some view the entire system of local government with a jaundiced eye, claiming that the funds allocated to constituencies are often misappropriated.

“Whatever resources accrue to government is just shared among the politicians and not channeled towards the development of the people. The dividends of democracy, which are good roads, pipe-borne water, electricity – are not forthcoming, so the people are very pessimistic about their future,” said Anifowose.

Opposition parties in many states have rejected the outcome of the polls, while the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 180 civil society groups that monitored Saturday’s voting, also described the election as a sham.

Jamiu Egbodoku, Lagos State chairman of the ANPP, said “In Lagos State, what we had on Saturday was no election. The governor just selected his people into office and went ahead to quickly swear them into office.”

“Where in the world do you have an election and within two days swear in the people without giving room for objections and petitions as prescribed by the electoral act?” he asked. The ANPP says it will go to court to overturn the election results in Lagos state, a course which parties in other states are also following.

In Enugu state, eastern Nigeria, three parties are contesting the PDP’s landslide victory. The ANPP and AD have also queried the PDP’s success in the southern Delta state, saying ballots were not cast in many constituencies there.

In the south-western Osun state, the discontent took a violent turn when the supporters of six parties that are contesting another PDP victory torched four houses.

TMG Chairman Festus Okoye said the group viewed the weekend poll as flawed because the State Independent Electoral Commissions that organized the local elections were not considered independent. He also pointed to the lack of up-to-date voters’ registers, prohibitive nomination fees for candidates and arbitrary disqualifications of people who had wished to contest the polls.

“Cases of electoral fraud and malpractices were recorded in many of the polling stations. These included impersonation, under-age voting, multiple voting, stuffing of ballot boxes and snatching of ballot boxes,” said the TMG.

“It is doubtful whether, given the substantial flaws that attended the preparations and the level of irregularities observed on election day, the elections can in any way be considered to be reflective of the will of the people,” it added.

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