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NIGERIA: Uneasy Finale to General Elections

Mustapha Muhammad

KANO, Apr 25 2011 (IPS) - Nigerians will return to the polls Tuesday to elect state legislators and governors. Government at this level plays a key role in delivering services and infrastructure, but in northern states the choice of credible leaders could be overshadowed by lingering anger over the Apr. 16 presidential election.

Tensions boiled over across the north last week following the announcement of results of the presidential poll. The incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, won 57 percent of votes cast, against 31 percent for his main rival, Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change party.

Buhari, a former military ruler who won a majority of votes in the strongly-Muslim north of the country, accused Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of rigging the elections. Across the north, his supporters took to the streets in protest, attacking candidates and supporters of Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party.

The 2011 presidential contest, like every one before it, ended up framed as one between Christians and Muslims, and as well as attacking the homes and offices of PDP candidates, rioters in some places also targeted churches and members of southern ethnic groups.

In urban and rural areas alike, people barricaded themselves in their homes for safety. The Kaduna-based NGO Civil Rights Congress put the death toll across the north at 200, with many thousands more injured. The targeting of members of Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps (a one-year posting of university graduates to serve) who had served as election monitors has become a particularly sore talking point in national media.

A curfew and a heavy military presence imposed an uneasy calm, but fears of further violence have forced the postponement of Apr. 26 state-level elections in two of the country’s 36 states, Bauchi and Kaduna.

The northern state of Kano – the nation’s most populous, with an estimated 10 million inhabitants – was not exempt from post-election violence. Angry mobs barricaded major intersections across the city on Apr. 18, shutting down traffic; presumed PDP supporters were chased through the streets, and extensive property was damaged.

According to Musa Abdullahi, who heads the Red Cross in Kano, seven people died in the state capital alone and over 70 others were injured. 
A guest house and a factory belonging to Sule Lamido, the governor of neighbouring Jigawa State and a strong supporter of Goodluck Jonathan, were burnt to the ground.

The gubernatorial candidates for the PDP in Kano and other northern states may face stiff opposition from angry supporters of Buhari seeking a revenge vote against defeat in the presidential polls. The party’s candidate in Kano has undertaken a massive campaign in local media to distance himself from personal animosity towards the national party.

“People are now voting for a person not a party,” PDP publicity committee chairman Dan Saran Kano Gambo told IPS. “Voters search for credible leaders not a party.”

One of the key issues on which would-be state governors are seeking to establish credibility is over the provision of adequate supplies of clean water.

According to Nigerian health authorities, last year was the second-worst in two decades for cholera; 38,000 cases and more than 1,500 deaths were recorded nation-wide.

“Shortages and contamination of drinking water as well as poor sanitation are the major causes of disease in our society,” said Nasir Muhammad, an epidemiologist in Kano.

Indications are that 2011 could be another challenging year for Kano State. The incidence of cholera and other waterborne diseases usually peaks towards the end of the rainy season in September or October, but more than 100 cases had been recorded in the capital city alone by February; the state commissioner for health, Aishatu Isyaku Kiru, told reporters a single hospital – the capital’s Infectious Diseases Hospital – had treated 30 cases and urged the public to be diligent over public hygiene.

But this is easier said than done, with evidence of the city’s inadequate water infrastructure visible in the streets every day. Water vendors push heavily-loaded carts through Kano neighbourhoods unreached by pipe-borne water.

Shortages are a major concern for residents of Kano, a commercial hub with a history dating back to the seventh century. A rapidly growing population thanks to an influx of traders and migrants from other northern Nigerian states and neighbouring countries has compounded the water problem.

According to the head of Kano’s water supply agency, Yahaya Bala Karaye, Kano’s two major water works – Chalawa and the newer Tamburawa plant completed in 2010 – have a combined installed production capacity of 350 million litres per day. The city needs an estimated 500 million litres daily, and the water works produce far less than their installed capacity due to frequent power outages.

In the state’s smaller towns and villages, access to water is even worse, and candidates for state governor all promise to make it an urgent priority if elected.

Kano has been governed for nearly eight years by the All Nigeria Peoples Party. On the campaign trail, ANPP candidate Salihu Sagir Takai promised to solve electricity supply problems that limit the output of the City of Kano’s water treatment plants by means of an independent power producer contract.

Water was also on the campaign agenda of the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who governed Kano between 1999 and 2003. “I will definitely revive and improve water supply in Kano tremendously and make the menace [of inadequate water] history if elected the next governor.”

The ANPP did poorly in legislative elections held on Apr. 9, winning eight seats in the National House of Representatives and a single seat in the Senate, against the PDP which elected 12 national representatives and two senators.

A potential backlash against the PDP in the north could reverse this if Kwankwaso faces problems linked to the presidential result.

Regardless of who wins election to state house, the country’s new governors, legislators and president will face a daunting task handling the aftermath of electoral violence, dealing with other violent conflict in the country, and addressing urgent development needs.

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