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State Governor Candidates Try to Woo Voters in Lagos, Nigeria


Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, is preparing to go to the polls for the first in a series of crucial elections. First up are elections on Saturday for state governors. In the commercial capital of Lagos candidates are wooing voters with catchy tunes and grandiose promises in a city where most people live in slums. Sarah Simpson reports for VOA from Lagos.

Jimi Agbaje of the Democratic People's Alliance is just one of 22 candidates running for governor of Lagos State. He says he is the man who can provide the state's nine million residents with good roads, electricity and security; food, water and shelter.

Lagos State is home to Lagos city, Nigeria's sprawling commercial capital. The city is so large that it extends beyond the state limits and has an estimated population of 15 million.

Two out of three residents in this mega-city, known for high crime and choking traffic jams, live in slums, according to local government authorities.

Not surprisingly, every party is promising to provide basic needs.

Lagos is the sixth largest city in the world, and government officials acknowledge it lacks the infrastructure to support this massive population. Electricity is at best sporadic. Fewer than one percent of residents have a flushing toilet. Human and industrial waste chokes the lagoons on which the city sits.

Lagos used to be Nigeria's capital and remains the country's commerce and business hub. Despite the problems, thousands of Nigerians flock to the city every year in search of work and prosperity

With a population growth rate of around six percent a year, Lagos will be the third largest city in the world by 2015, according to government officials.

Whoever wins Saturday's poll faces a formidable task, but many residents doubt whether any of them will be able to live up to their promises.

During the rare hours when there is power, music plays from Chukwuma Udeogaranya's tiny electrical shop in a bustling Lagos shopping district.

Like the other young men hanging out in his shop, Udeogaranya has heard politicians' jingles on the radio, but he is not impressed by any of them.

UDEOGARANYA: "In radio we heard about them, on the streets we see their posters, we have seen many things about them, but they are all politicians, you know. They keep on promising and promising and promising. Just empty promising empty promises, they are all Nigeria politicians."

SIMPSON: "Have you heard these things before? These promises?"

UDEOGARANYA: "Ah! Oh! Since 1960 they have been promising, 'I will do this for you, I will do this for you' and at the end of the day they will not even do anything. They are not there for the masses. They are not there to enrich themselves. You can see!"

Nigeria is a former British colony that gained independence in 1960. It operates a federal system of government much like the United States.

State governors have considerable powers and control spending on health and education.

Each of Nigeria's states receives millions of dollars of revenue from the federal government each year, their share of the nation's vast oil earnings.

But the average Nigerian derives little benefit from his country's wealth. According to the United Nations, most struggle to survive on less than $2 a day.

Still, Lagos' aspiring governors say they know how voters suffer.

Up for grabs on Saturday are 36 state governor posts and hundreds of state legislator's seats.

Voting stations open at 8 a.m. Results are expected within days.

Crucial presidential elections are to follow on April 21. They should mark Nigeria's first ever transfer of power from one civilian head of state to another.