News / Africa

Nigerian Opposition Parties Make Gains in State Houses

A woman prepares to cast her vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, April 28, 2011 (file photo)
A woman prepares to cast her vote in Kaduna, Nigeria, April 28, 2011 (file photo)

Nigerian opposition parties have increased their share of the country's powerful state governors in a vote that the Obama administration says reverses a downward slide of democracy.

Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) held on to the presidency with the election of Goodluck Jonathan, but it will control fewer of the country's powerful state governors following a vote marred by violence and allegations of ballot theft.

The ruling party now holds none of the six state houses in the southwest region where the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria picked up the states of Ogun and Oyo while holding on to control of the commercial capital Lagos.

Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola says the electoral commission defied those who feared the worst.

"Everything pointed to a disaster, and pointed to very difficult times ahead," said Fashola.  "But I think with these elections as a people we have risen and said that we will not accept certain things anymore. There is still a lot of work to do about our elections, but this is progress that we must build on."

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, says the vote marks a new direction for Africa's most populous country.

"This reverses a downward democratic trajectory and provides the country a solid foundation for strengthening its electoral procedures and democratic institutions in the years to come," said Carson.  "The Nigerian people have shown to the world their resilience and will to have their voices heard. These elections were a real opportunity to choose their leaders."

There were problems. Supporters of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari fought with riot police after Buhari said President Jonathan's election was rigged. Buhari supporters attacked churches, homes and police stations in the north, sparking reprisal attacks by Christians in violence that a local human rights group says killed at least 500 people.

Buhari's party is challenging results from the gubernatorial elections in Niger and Katsina states. The Action Congress of Nigeria is contesting the outcome of voting in Akwa Ibom.

Despite what he called "some technical imperfections," Carson says these elections are a substantial improvement over Nigeria's seriously flawed 2007 vote.

"Following the deplorable post-election violence of the previous week, we are heartened that many Nigerian voters went to the polls to vote in an environment largely free of violence," added Carson.  "We remain concerned about allegations of fraud and ballot box snatching in various jurisdictions, and we strongly urge Nigerian authorities to investigate and take corrective actions on all of these allegations."

President Jonathan says a judicial commission of inquiry will investigate post-electoral violence and all perpetrators of what he calls "these dastardly acts of violence" will face the full weight of the law.

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