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Gubernatorial Elections Tense in Key Nigerian State

  • Heather Murdock

People's Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant Charles Airhiavbere speaks during a political rally at Sabongida Ora in Edo State June 13, 2012.

People's Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant Charles Airhiavbere speaks during a political rally at Sabongida Ora in Edo State June 13, 2012.

Amid fears of violence and fraud, Nigerians in Edo State went to the polls to vote for a new governor Saturday. Both leading parties accuse each other other of preparing for battle, buying votes and attempted political assassinations but some voters say they still have high hopes that this will be a free and fair election.

Analysts say this election will be the first real indicator of what is to come in 2015, when the ruling party’s sinking popularity will be tested at the polls.

Outside a polling station in the village of Aduwawa in the southern Edo State, scores of people protested the fact that their names were not on the voter rolls.

They shouted, “We want to vote,” while reports of high turnout, tight security and late voting materials poured in from around the state.

The election pits the nation’s main opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria, represented by current governor Adams Oshiomhole, against retired major general Charles Airhiavbere of the nation’s ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party.

Angola Aliyu is an observer for one of the five other parties contesting in the election. He said that, despite accusations that both of the two largest parties were preparing for violence and fraud, the winner will be determined at the polls.

“We need peace and we need justice. We don’t need fights. We don’t need quarrels. And besides, we will win the votes by the special grace of God.”

Clement Nwankwo is the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja. He said this election is not just about determining the leadership of Edo State, but it could serve as a bellwether for 2015 - national elections some say could be explosive for Nigeria.

“Given the struggle between the ruling party and the major opposition party it could really determine the perception of the ruling party and the sense of which the 2015 elections would shape.”

These elections, he added, are also being closely watched because of security concerns. The run-up to the election has included what appear to be political assassinations, accusations that parties are gathering small armies, and vote buying.

Election officials say 3,500 soldiers were deployed to guard polling stations in Edo State, which has a population of about 3.3 million people.

Solomon Idiogbe is the chairman of the Edo State branch of the National Youth Council. As he waited in line to get his hand marked with a black ink circle that certifies that he can vote, he told VOA that election day has been peaceful and he hopes it will be maintained after the results are announced, which is expected to be on Sunday.

“What’s most important in an election period is a pre-election and post-election arrangements. So, so far so good. We are very confident.”

In 2011, 800 people were killed in post-election violence that broke out in northern Nigeria after President Goodluck Jonathan was declared the victor.

The current governor of Edo State was appointed by the courts after their 2007 elections were declared fraudulent. This election will determine if Jonathan’s party can re-take control of Edo State, which is in the south, and the heart of his support base.

Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from Edo State