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Nigeria in litmus test vote for 2015 presidentials

15 November 2013, 06:43

Lagos - Anambra state goes to the polls this weekend to elect a new governor in a vote seen as a key test of President Goodluck Jonathan's popularity before his expected campaign for re-election.

Jonathan is tipped to run again for the presidency in 2015, despite dissent within his ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) from some who believe he should step down in favour of a northern Muslim candidate.

The main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is seeking to unseat him and win its first presidency since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Political analysts have described the Anambra poll as crucial to the smooth running of the presidential vote in Nigeria and an indication of its commitment to preventing widespread vote rigging and election-linked violence.

"The Anambra election is a dress rehearsal for 2015," said Laja Odukoya, a political science lecturer at the University of Lagos.

"If we don't get it right now, we may never get it right in 2015. The INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) has to prove that they are equal to the task," he told AFP.

"We know Anambra is volatile. Any little thing can lead to chaos. The police must be up and doing."

A total of 23 candidates are jostling to win the governorship, which becomes vacant in March when incumbent Peter Obi steps down after serving the maximum of two four-year terms.

Obi's All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) is hoping to keep control of the mineral-rich southeastern state.

The party was founded by Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the man who announced the secession of southeastern Nigeria as Biafra in 1967, leading to the Nigerian civil war, which ended in 1970.

The APGA party is up against the APC, whose candidate is a former state governor, and a challenge from the PDP.

The elections watchdog said nearly 1.8 million voters have been registered for Saturday's vote, the results of which are expected from the following day.

"We have adequately mobilised men, materials, other logistics for this crucial poll," INEC spokesman Kayode Idowu told AFP.

"We are also working with the security agents to ensure that we have a hitch-free exercise."

US monitors at the last elections in Anambra in 2010 said the vote was "credible" but bemoaned poor organisation at some polling stations.

Measures designed to eradicate vote-rigging will be in place this time round, said Idowu.

More than 12,600 election officials will be deployed to oversee the election, as well as dozens of supervisors.

The 2011 presidential election, won by Jonathan, was seen as a major improvement over previous polls marred by violence and rigging, though significant problems remained.

Some 800 people were estimated to have died in post-election violence in the Muslim-majority north.

Police spokesman Frank Mba said the force will leave nothing to chance and a high-ranking officer has been sent to Anambra "for an effective coordination of all security operations for the election".

Restriction of movement within Anambra will be enforced from 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Friday to 6:00 am on Sunday, with a heavy police presence in surrounding states, he added.

"This is a pre-emptive measure aimed at forestalling elaborate plans by faceless groups to undermine the electoral process as gathered through intelligence reports," said Mba.

More than 4,000 polling stations and counting centres will be protected and adequate security for ballot papers and staff will be provided, he added.

Two weeks ago, dozens of people were killed following a stampede during an overnight church service in Anambra.

The opposition blamed the governor for triggering the crush, alleging that he used the occasion to campaign for the APGA candidate.

"All the candidates must be given a level playing field. Any party involved in electoral malpractices should be sanctioned," said Odukoya.



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