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- Category: April 2011 Polls
- Published on Thursday, 28 April 2011 12:48
- Written by Admin
- Hits: 1432
Kaduna - Small crowds of voters nervously cast ballots Thursday in Kaduna and Bauchi states in oil-rich Nigeria hit hard by religious rioting that killed at least 500 people following the nation's presidential election.
Picture: An electoral official
The polls remained calm both states, though noticeably fewer voters turned up to take part in the delayed gubernatorial elections. Soldiers deployed in the streets blocked intersections and searched cars, while police officers in riot gear milled around local precincts.
Many left Kaduna after the rioting and just before voting began. Shops remained closed and a herd of cattle grazed down one empty street in the city's downtown. Some carried bullhorns and shouted in Hausa language to draw frightened voters out of their homes.
Kaduna state's Christian governor faces a challenge from a Muslim opposition already emboldened by presidential results showing the region voted against the ruling People's Democratic Party. Allegations over voter fraud as it became clear President Goodluck Jonathan won the election, sparked the violence that engulfed the city and destroyed villages in its rural pasturelands.
"It's not that people are afraid. ... It's just when we voted, we didn't get who we voted for," said voter Zainab Aliyu, 50, in Hausa. "Some people were disenfranchised and decided to stay home."
In Bauchi state, polling stations also saw low voter turnout, as a heavy security presence could be seen on the roads in the state capital. Election officials brought in from neighboring states often sat at the polling centers, as workers from Nigeria's National Youth Service Corps boycotted taking part after several members died in the rioting last week.
The gubernatorial races carry tremendous importance because governors represent the closest embodiment of power many ever see in a nation of 150 million people. The positions provide many politicians with personal fiefdoms where oil money sluices into unwatched state coffers that exceed those of neighboring nations.
In Kaduna, Gov. Patrick Yakowa, a Christian, took office after Muslim leader Namadi Sambo was picked to serve as the nation's vice president under President Goodluck Jonathan. Yakowa's ascension sparked earlier unrest in a city where more than 2,000 died as the government moved to enact Islamic Shariah law in 2000. In 2002, rioting over a newspaper article suggesting the prophet Muhammad would have married a Miss World pageant contestant killed dozens here.
But the roots of the sectarian conflict across the north often have more to do with struggles for political and economic dominance. Opportunities remain few for those in the arid north, as jobs are scarce and a formal education remains out of the reach of many in a nation where most earn less than $2 a day.
Many burned the homes of traditional rulers across the north in the post-election violence, something once unthinkable in a region that values the advice of elders.
"They feel their leaders betrayed them," said Aliko Mohammed, a leader in a forum of northern leaders.
Most states taking part in gubernatorial and local elections cast ballots Tuesday. Initial results announced on the state-run Nigerian Television Authority showed opposition parties took at least two states from ruling party People's Democratic Party, while it picked up Kano state.
While observers said the vote appeared to be largely fair, incidents of violence, intimidation and ballot box theft marred elections the country hoped would show the world it had become a legitimate democracy after 12 years of civilian rule.
Yet the tension at the polls and soldiers in the street proved otherwise. As voters thronged around one polling station, a green armored car carrying soldiers came down the narrow street. A soldier inside shouted at a foreign journalist to turn off her camera as another manned a mounted machine gun on top of the vehicle.
"Please, we are protecting you and protecting our image," one soldier shouted out of a loud speaker as they drove away.
Associated Press writer Shehu Saulawa in Bauchi, Nigeria contributed to this report.