Fears for Nigeria-wide vote
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Lagos - Nigeria's 2015 presidential elections could descend into chaos if alleged irregularities and bungling in a key local vote are repeated nationally, politicians and activists are warning.
Nearly two weeks after voters went to the polls to elect a new governor in southeastern Anambra state, there is still no result and Nigeria's electoral watchdog has ordered a re-run in some constituencies this weekend.
The November 16 election in the mineral-rich state was seen as an early indication of support for President Goodluck Jonathan before his expected run for re-election in about 18 months.
Jonathan's ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been split by his election ambitions and on Tuesday a splinter group of prominent politicians and powerful governors defected to the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Provisional results in Anambra gave victory to the All Progressives Grand Alliance party of incumbent governor Peter Obi - a Jonathan ally.
But the PDP, APC and Labour Party all called for a complete re-run, with one senior figure calling it a “parody of an election” after some people were denied the chance to vote, despite being on the electoral roll.
Ballot boxes, papers and other election material went missing, while police also imposed tough restrictions on movement into and out of the state, which was viewed in some circles as harassment and intimidation.
Lawyer and activist Festus Keyamo told AFP only 451 826 people voted - well under half of the 1.8 million voters eligible for the exercise - dismissing the exercise as a “sham” and a danger for the whole country.
“There was a wicked and unholy alliance between INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) and the PDP to subvert the democratic process in Nigeria,” he claimed.
“If (chairman Attahiru) Jega's INEC cannot conduct a free and fair election in 21 local governments in Anambra, should he be trusted to conduct a general election that would produce the nation's president in the 774 local governments of the federation?
“We should not expect any miracle in 2015. Nigerians should prepare for the worst. The masses and civil society groups should defend their votes. We have to take our destiny in our hands.”
Nigeria's former oil minister Tam David-West meanwhile called for Jega, who was appointed by the president and whose organisation depends on presidency funding, to be sacked to ensure free and fair elections in 2015.
“By the Anambra election, Jega and his subordinates have put the 2015 election in jeopardy,” he said. “With the way we are going, there may be a problem in 2015 if action is not taken.
“There may be cataclysm in 2015 if Jega is not changed. He can throw the country into chaos.”
Past elections in Africa's most populous country and biggest oil producer have been marred by accusations of widespread fraud, as well as deadly, election-linked violence.
But international observers largely praised INEC for its handling of the 2011 vote, saying they were the fairest since the end of military rule in 1999.
INEC spokesman Kayode Idowu dismissed suggestions that the commission should not be trusted to organise the national vote because of the problems in Anambra, saying it was “part of the fine-tuning process” for 2015.
“A biometric voting system is now being used to prevent multiple voting and fraud,” he added.
“We have tried it in Anambra. Our goal is to have an election that is not only free, fair and credible but also conforms to international best practices.”
The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) civil society body deployed more than 600 observers in Anambra and was also less critical of the electoral commission but nevertheless called for reform to ensure transparency and neutrality.
“What happened in Anambra is not serious enough to put 2015 into jeopardy. Although there are some challenges here and there, we believe INEC can overcome those challenges,” said TMG spokesman Eneruvie Enakoko.
“INEC should be adequately equipped to do its job. They should be free of political interference and have access to enough money and personnel to perform.
“More importantly, there should be political education for the electorate so that they will know their rights and defend their vote. Their votes should count.”