Saturday’s polls were preceded by a two-day wave of political violence that left almost 50 people reported dead, some shot or macheted at polling stations, according to Reuters. Thousands of police and military were dispatched around the country to maintain order over the weekend.
Africa’s most populous nation has struggled with religious and ethnic divisions that have left more than 10,000 dead since Olusegun Obasanjo first won Nigeria’s presidency in 1999, ending some 15 years of military rule.
At least 20 people died Friday in the central Plateau state, but it was unclear whether the attack on mostly Muslim inhabitants was aimed at disrupting the election or a revenge attack by Christian fighters for earlier raids that have killed 200 in the state in six weeks.
Some media outlets report allegations of fraud and irregularities at the polls. The elections determined control of hundreds of local government councils and were twice delayed due to organizational problems. Reuters reported that witnesses saw electoral officials forging ballots and party members stealing ballot boxes, often with the collaboration of police.
The BBC reported that elections were not held in three local areas due to a lack of ballot papers.
“I am very angry because we did not vote, this was a litmus paper test for the independent state electoral bodies and they have failed,” Omar Sani, a campaign director for one of the candidates in the Kaduna state told the BBC.
But Nigeria’s Information Minister Chukwuemeka Chikelu maintained that the elections had gone well.
“Given the religious, political and ethnic challenges we face in this vast country, I think it was commendable that we could manage something as contentious as elections without a blood bath,” he said.
The local government posts at stake give the winners access to a share of the nation’s oil export earnings distributed from the federal government. The control of the funds has led to accusations of corruption and other concerns in a country where many people live without access to many basic services.
“It won’t be an election. All the governors are going to install their puppets, so they can control the money. There will be violence, because the opposition are equally desperate,” Olusegun Adeniyi, political columnist with the Nigerian newspaper This Day, told reporters on Thursday, according to South Africa’s News24.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party, which already controls three quarters of state governments and two-thirds of Congress, won in 27 of the 30 states that held polls, according to results published by the state-run News Agency of Nigeria.
Many losers said they would dispute the results in court, including those in the states of Kano, Bauchi, Edo, Delta, Borno, Ogun and Zamfara, Reuters reported.
The opposition All Nigeria People’s Party in the northeastern Bauchi state called the vote a “rape of democracy,” according to the news service.
Obasanjo’s reelection in 2003 was described by the U.S. State Department as “marred by serious irregularities and fraud including political violence,” and is still being disputed in an Abuja court.