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Many Nigerians Apathetic Over State Polls


Nigerians voted for new state governors and legislators Saturday, but in a poor suburb of the commercial capital, Lagos, many people were doubtful that the election could bring any improvement to their lives. Sarah Simpson reports for VOA from Lagos.

On the normally traffic-choked streets of Ebute Metta, an old and poor quarter of Lagos, young men and boys are playing football - making the most of a ban on travel during the voting period.

Some, like Sunday Jonah, said they would not be interrupting their game to vote. Jonah says it is a waste of time.

"It has all been the same thing all the while, the same promises, the same thing every year, every section of the election," said Jonah. "So, I see no reason why I am voting. The same promises, the same everything. We are tired of the promises, all we want is action. We do not want promises anymore."

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer. Despite the billions of dollars of crude exported each year, the majority of the population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations.

Tunji Akande says that, after weeks of power cuts and water shortages in Ebute Metta, most residents are more concerned with finding a bucket of water to wash and cook, than going out to vote.

"A lot of people are not going to come out to vote today, because, for about two or three weeks now, there has not been lights, no water," said Akande. "If you go around, you see people looking for water, some people have been up since maybe 2 am or 3 am looking for water. So because of that, there will be a lot of disruptions. People have not taken their baths, they do not have water to cook, they need water they need electricity. They are not happy."

Akande is not going to vote either. He says he believes Nigerians cannot change anything through the ballot box, that the result is already decided.

"All this you are seeing is just ceremony," said Akande. "I do not believe people's vote counts at all. It does not count. I do not believe that."

Nigeria's previous polls in 2003, were marred by allegations of rigging and voter intimidation.

Foreign and national observers were monitoring Saturday's polls. However, the European Union has not sent any of its team members to Nigeria's restive southern Delta region and oil producing center because of security fears.

Seven policemen were killed when gunmen stormed two police stations in Port Harcourt, the capital of the oil producing southern region.

In Lagos Saturday, other than widespread logistical hitches and delays, voting passed without incident.

Kemi Ogunbona was one of the first people to vote in her polling station in Ebute Metta, her thumbnail marked with ink to show she had cast her ballot.

But even she was guarded about the prospects for any improvements to life in Ebute Metta.

"If we get to choose the right person, it takes Lagos farther. It makes life easier for everyone - transportation, power supply, the water system. Things will work better provided we pick the right person," she said.

"Well, we are hoping it gets better, replied when asked "And do you have faith in the system that that will happen?"

"Democracy is just starting in Nigeria, and we believe that, in time, it gets better, and hope that we will see an improvement on the last government," added Metta.

Saturday's governor and state legislator elections are just the first in a series of crucial polls. Next Saturday, the country will be voting again, and that time, it will be for a new president. Should voting pass off smoothly, it will mark the first transfer of power from one elected head of state to another since gaining independence from Britain in 1960.