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Nigeria Vote Marred by Violence, Intimidation


Thousands of policemen patrolled the streets of southwest Nigeria's Ekiti state Monday to quell violence that disrupted a gubernatorial election on Saturday. Witnesses say armed gangs rampaged through the state as security agencies struggled to contain the violence.

Police say more than 100 people have been arrested following violence linked to supporters of the two main political parties in Ekiti, the federal ruling Peoples' Democratic Party and the opposition Action Congress.

Witnesses say youths with guns and machetes attacked perceived political opponents and some polling stations. Some journalists and election observers were also attacked.

The federal authorities had promised adequate security for the election with the deployment of 10,000 policemen. But independent election observers say the police were ineffective.

"In fact people were attacked in front of the policemen. So it was a sad situation. That was why we came to the conclusion that the deployment of policemen was actually selective," said Philip Japkor, a representative of civil society groups, was one of several election monitors in Ekiti. What was the issue of 10,000 police all about?"

Few Nigerian elections have been deemed free and fair since independence from Britain in 1960, and military takeovers have periodically interrupted civilian rule.

President Umaru Yar'Adua, who came to power in a 2007 vote that international observers described as not credible, promised a sweeping reform of the electoral system, but progress has been slow. The weekend vote in Ekiti was seen as a test run of national elections billed for 2011.

Another independent election observer in Ekiti, Oluwafemi Akinbode, has a bleak view of democracy in Nigeria. He says credible and participatory elections in Africa's most populous nation may be difficult.

"The major problem we have in Nigeria is with some political elites who will not respect the fundamental principle of democracy, which is one man one vote," he said. "The reform that we need is that that will ensure that the Nigerian people whoever they choose, comes in to rule them. And they must wait patiently or pass through the democratic process to remove him whenever they don't need him. Until we begin to see that in this country we will not see peace."

Thousands of policemen are patrolling the streets of Ekiti Monday after the electoral body announced the indefinite suspension of voting in areas where the process was halted due to violence on Saturday. No result of voting in other parts of the state has so far been released.

The weekend ballot was prompted by court ruling which annulled the 2007 election of the state governor for fraud and irregularities.


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