Sporadic political violence erupted Saturday in Nigeria, with seven people killed as voters went to the polls to elect governors and other state representatives.
Voters were electing 36 state governors, with 29 of the races contested. Turnout appeared to be weaker than in the national presidential election two weeks ago, when Muhammadu Buhari ousted incumbent Goodluck Jonathan.
Election monitors reported the seven people were killed in Rivers state, where it was also said that an office of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Buguma was dynamited.
“These killings form part of a wider pattern of politically motivated violence, arson and hijacking of electoral materials that our observers have noted,” the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room said in a statement. It added that electoral regulations at many polling stations had been "flagrantly flouted."
Eyewitnesses told Reuters that shootings on the streets of several Rivers towns forced voters to initially remain indoors and that voting began hours late after a 2,000-strong early-morning protest in the state capital, Port Harcourt, delayed the distribution of materials.
Violence was also reported in Lagos, Delta, Ebonyi and Akwa states.
Saturday's violence contrasted with the relatively peaceful ballot that Buhari won outright last month, without any need for a runoff. Modern Nigeria's political history has been marred by coups, and Jonathan became the first head of state voted out of office in a peaceful change of power.
Nigeria's 36 state governors are among the most powerful political figures in the nation that is Africa's biggest oil producer and top economy. Analysts say the influence wielded by governors has often prompted previous candidates to try dirty electoral tactics, such as snatching ballot boxes, manipulating voter turnout, and engaging in thuggery and intimidation.
Voters in Lagos state were choosing between two main candidates: Jimi Agbaje of Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party and Akinwunmi Ambode of Buhari's All Progressives Congress, or APC.
Across Lagos, many voters said they expected whoever won to deliver jobs, reliable electricity and prosperity. The demands of schoolteacher Abimbola Paramole were typical.
“I need a job. People, they don’t have jobs. I want them to do jobs for them, the Nigerians. And the lights,” said Paramole.
In Lagos, the country’s commercial hub and largest city, the turnout was noticeably smaller than in the recent presidential election. The chief observer of the European Union’s mission, Santiago Fisas, attributed that to voter fatigue.
“Two elections, one after the other, then perhaps they’re less interested," he said. "They thought that the presidential election was more important and they’re less interested about these elections. But I think that, in a way, it’s a mistake. Governors are more close to the people and also the member of the assembly, the house assembly here."
Samuel Ikechukwu, a party agent for the APC in a suburb of the state capital Port Harcourt, says fear kept some people from voting.
“They were afraid," he said. "You know, there was harassing, they were killed, bottle, they will do this and do that. That is why they were afraid not to come out and vote.”
Results in the governor and House of Assembly races are expected in the next few days.
Hilary Uguru contributed reporting from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.