/ 20 November 2017

Nigeria state poll peaceful despite a call for Biafrans to boycott

Separatist sentiment has persisted in the southeast despite defeat in the civil war and the huge loss of life.
Separatist sentiment has persisted in the southeast despite defeat in the civil war and the huge loss of life.

A gubernatorial poll in Nigeria’s Anambra state passed off largely without incident, despite fears of violence after pro-Biafran separatists called for a boycott.

The incumbent governor, Willie Obiano, of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, was announced the victor on Sunday, scoring a widely-expected win.

But attention was focused on turnout because of the call by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group for people to stay at home.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) representative in the state, Nkwachukwu Orji, told AFP: “Saturday’s election was smooth and peaceful.

“The turn-out of voters was not bad in view of the prevailing circumstances. The turnout was about 22 percent of eligible voters.”

IPOB, which wants a referendum on secession for the Igbo people who dominate the southeast, has claimed its boycott was upheld.

But others pointed out that turnout for governorship and state elections in Nigeria is always low. During the last state elections in 2013, turnout in Anambra was 26.3 percent, INEC figures show.

The Premium Times news site said turnout had not been above 50 percent since 1999, when Nigeria returned to civilian rule after decades of military government.

To secure Saturday’s vote, the state had been turned into a fortress with an extra 26,000 police officers on duty, backed by surveillance helicopters and even gunboats.

In a statement, security officials said an unspecified number of people had been arrested, among them “troublemakers, political thugs, including IPOB members desirous of causing crises”.

The Nigerian government has designated IPOB a terrorist organisation and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is on trial for treason.

Civil society observers said “fears of massive violence, voter apathy and a low turnout” did not materialise, adding that there was no concern about “over-policing”.

But the Situation Room, a coalition of pro-governance non-governmental organisations monitoring the vote, noted “blatant incidents of vote-buying” by major parties.

“Party agents stationed themselves at PUs (polling units) paying voters sums ranging from 500 to 5,000 naira ($1.40 to $14) to vote in favour of their candidates,” it said.

“This emerging impunity of vote-buying, happening in the full glare of security officials, appears to be a dangerous trend in our elections that needs to be addressed urgently.”

© Agence France-Presse