Voters in Nigeria's Anambra state went to the polls Saturday to choose a new governor in an election seen as crucial to prospects for next year's presidential contest. Nigeria's state governors say the country's vice president should be made acting leader because the president has been on medical leave for more than ten weeks.
More than 23,000 security forces were deployed in Anambra state to ensure a peaceful vote. But there were still problems as some polling stations opened three hours late and many voters said they were blocked from casting their ballots because they were not on the electoral roles.
Anambra's incumbent governor Peter Obi is facing four major challengers, including parliamentarian Uche Ekwunife who told reporters that Saturday's vote was not free, was not credible, and was not transparent. But she stopped short of calling for the results to be annulled. "As the day goes by, let's see what happens. But for now, things are not really the way they should be. I just hope that it improves," she said.
This is the first in a cycle of state and federal votes that are meant to lead up to presidential elections in April 2011. So polling in Anambra is being watched closely amid Nigeria's mounting constitutional crisis over the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua.
He has not been seen since late November when he left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. While his ruling party has said for weeks that he is expected back soon, there is growing pressure on lawmakers to officially name Vice President Goodluck Jonathan acting president.
Nigeria's powerful state governors have joined the countrys' bar association and former heads of state in calling for such a move. The Nigerian Governors' Forum says recognizing Vice President Jonathan as acting president would be "in the interest of the nation."
The president's prolonged absence one year before the next general election has brought forward speculation about who might succeed him. The absence of the president is affecting what is meant to be a rotating presidency to ease political friction between Northern and Southern Nigeria.
President Yar'Adua is from the north. Vice President Jonathan is from the south.
Concerns about a potential power vacuum here in Abuja rose following last month's religious and ethnic violence in the city of Jos. That has brought even closer attention to the outcome of the Anambra vote as that state saw post-electoral violence in 2007.
National Electoral Commission Spokesman Philip Umeadi says Nigeria must get the vote in Anambra right because he says the outcome will "to a great extent determine the outcome of the 2011 general election."
Former Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaouku says the Anambra vote will shape the direction elections take next year as he says the country is at a crossroads where its affairs are not as bright as they should be.