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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 26 March 2004

NIGERIA: Troops on alert ahead of delayed local elections

LAGOS, 26 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Long-delayed local government elections will take place across Nigeria on Saturday, with President Olusegun Obasanjo putting the country's military on alert to quell the election-related violence anticipated in many parts of the country.

In a national broadcast late on Thursday, Obasanjo urged Nigerians to avoid violent conduct during the vote and accept the outcome of the ballot in the interest of building an enduring democracy for Africa's most populous country. He said Nigeria's 50,000-strong police had been given the means to ensure the election went smoothly.

"If necessary, the military is on alert to support the police," Obasanjo said. The statement comes on the heels of a recent rise in acts of political violence in Nigeria, including several cases of attempted assassination and the actual assassinations of top political figures.

Local and international human rights groups have often accused political parties in Nigeria of unleashing violence as a means of intimidating their opponents in the run up to elections.

Under the Nigerian constitution, responsibility for the organisation of these local elections rests with the state governments. One state, Sokoto in the north, has already conducted its own vote in January. The remaining 35 states will hold their poll on Saturday.

But as the date approached, south-eastern Anambra State opted out saying it did not have structures in place to participate in the elections.

In the violence-prone oil town of Warri, in the Niger Delta, the state government has suspended the polls in three council areas where militia fighting involving the Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri ethnic groups has killed more than 200 people in the last year.

Abel Oshevire, a spokesman for Delta State, said elections would not be held in Warri North, Warri South and Warri Southwest councils until disputes over electoral boundaries fuelling the violence are resolved.

"We have traced the violence in these areas to political disputes and we don't want to further aggravate the situation," said Oshevire.

In 15 states, where new local government councils have been created, there has been confusion. Some doubt whether elections will be valid as the new councils have not been ratified by the national legislature - as required under the constitution.

Some political parties that are in opposition in those states had mounted legal challenges to the holding elections in the new councils.

Though the central courts have cleared the way for the new councils to continue with the vote regardless, there still remains the hurdle of the national assembly, which could decline approval of he new council's status.

Local government elections have been due since April 2002, when the three-year tenure of those elected to the councils at the close of the military era comes to an end.

However voting could not take place as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had not updated the voter register as required by the constitution. The INEC blamed Obasanjo's government for not releasing funds on time.

With no elections pending, the various state governments appointed caretaker committees, which have been running the councils ever since.

Political analysts foresee a hard fight to control the local government system by the four strongest of Nigeria's 30 registered political parties.

They are the ruling PDP, the main opposition All Nigeria People's Party dominant in the north, the Alliance for Democracy which has Lagos as its stronghold, and the All Progressive Grand Alliance which made a strong showing in the southeast in last year's vote.

"The local councils are the grassroots foundation on which the parties build their strength," Ike Onyekwere, a political analyst, told IRIN. As a result, Onyekwere forecasts a hard fight.

"Whether they will do it fairly remains to be seen," he mused.


[ENDS]



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004



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