LAGOS/ONITSHA, Nigeria (Reuters) - The party of Nigeria’s president-elect Muhammadu Buhari has retained the Lagos state governorship, the electoral commission said on Sunday, consolidating his administration’s power by giving it control of the commercial capital.
While voting was extended in several other states due to violence or voting irregularities, the result in Lagos means it will be the first time since the end of military rule in 1999 that the governor of that key state and the president will be from the same party.
Observers said turnout was low in the vote to elect 29 governors and all state assemblies, compared with the presidential vote last month that was considered the freest and fairest yet and paved the way for Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power, with Buhari beating President Goodluck Jonathan by a landslide.
The fear of violence at polling stations, which proved justified in some cases, mixed with voter apathy, kept many Nigerians at home, despite the fact that the governors are among their most influential politicians, with budgets larger than those of some small nations.
At least 10 people were killed in election-related violence on Friday and Saturday, including a politician in Ebonyi State from Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who, police said, was shot in his home.
More than a dozen people were killed during last month’s presidential polls, mainly due to attacks by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, but one election monitor said violence was worse this weekend.
“I think it was worse than the presidential vote ... we’ve had more reports of fights and skirmishes around polling areas,” said Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center.
Tensions were particularly high in oil-rich Rivers state on the Niger Delta where Governor Rotimi Amaechi has been feuding with Jonathan since defecting from the PDP to Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) two years ago.
A large protest in state capital Port Harcourt, shoot-outs in several towns, attacks on electoral commission property and reports of ballot boxes being snatched delayed the start of voting. Amaechi called the polls a “sham”.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) canceled the vote in all parts of Rivers where materials had been taken and called fresh elections in some areas.
INEC reported 66 instances of violence at polling stations, with the highest number in Rivers and other southern states.
In the south-eastern state of Akwa-Ibom, the APC demanded a fresh election and protesters gathered in front of INEC headquarters in state capital Uyo.
“The protesting crowd numbered over 150 ... there are burnt tires along the Udo Uduma Avenue and street traffic lights were destroyed. There is a heavy police presence,” witness Edet Udo told Reuters.
Retaining Lagos is important for the APC as the city of 21 million people generates up to a third of Nigeria’s GPD with an economy twice the size of Kenya’s.
Outgoing APC governor Babatunde Fashola is credited with transforming the metropolis with infrastructure projects, although he has also been criticized for slum clearances.
Additional reporting by Tim Cocks and by Tife Owolabi in Port Harcourt, Buhari Bello in Jos, Oludare Mayowa in Lagos; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Robin Pomeroy