Nigerian opposition parties gained against the ruling People’s Democratic Party in parliamentary elections held yesterday in Africa’s top oil-producing nation, according to early results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Dimeji Bankole, speaker of the House of Representatives, lost his seat and Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, failed to return to the Senate as the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria swept most seats in the southwest region. The ruling party won senatorial seats in three states in the country’s southeast, while losing a senatorial seat in northern Bauchi state to the Congress for Progress Change, or CPC.
All results are expected within 48 hours of the end of the vote, and collation of results continue across the country today after many ballots came in late from remote districts, the commission known as INEC said.
“The pattern we have seen is the confirmation of the PDP’s strength in the southeast and the expansion of the Action Congress in the southwest,” Jibrin Ibrahim, director of Abuja- based good governance advocacy group, Center for Democracy and Development, said in an interview. “In the north the CPC is showing strength.”
The vote to choose members of the 109-seat Senate and 360- seat House of Representatives yesterday is a prelude to the presidential contest on April 16 that pits President Goodluck Jonathan against 18 rivals, including former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and the former head of the anti-graft agency, Nuhu Ribadu. Voters on April 26 will choose the governors and legislatures of Nigeria’s 36 states.
Explosions in Maiduguri
Two separate explosions at polling centers in the northeastern city of Maiduguri killed three people and injured several others. No group claimed responsibility for the blasts. Violent intimidation of voters and attempts to snatch ballots were reported in some constituencies in the southern oil-rich Niger River delta and Zaria city in the north, Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, said yesterday.
At least 12 people died in an explosion that hit an INEC office on election eve in the central city of Suleja, Yemi Ajayi, police said. In the northern city of Kaduna, a suspected bomber died the same day when an explosive he was handling went off prematurely, he said.
Suleja, which is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Abuja, was rocked by an attack on March 3 that killed 10 people when explosives were hurled into a rally of the PDP. More than 50 people have died in election-related violence since July, according to Amnesty International, while sectarian clashes in the north have claimed the lives of at least 200 since Dec. 24.
Jonathan was leading in the latest public opinion poll conducted by Ipsos for ThisDay, the Lagos-based newspaper reported on April 6. The survey said 62.1 percent of the voters favored Jonathan for next week’s vote, compared with 23.6 percent for Buhari and 6 percent for Ribadu, with more than 6 percent undecided.
To win in the first round, Jonathan must obtain a simple majority and secure 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the states. The Ipsos/ThisDay poll showed him getting 25 percent in 32 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.
Nigeria’s last election, in 2007, was condemned by local and international observers for being marred by violent intimidation of opponents, falsification of figures and ballot- snatching. Jonathan, who succeeded former President Umaru Yar’Adua on his death in May 2010, pledged to conduct free elections and appointed Attahiru Jega, a respected academic, to head INEC.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of more than 140 million, is the fifth-largest source of U.S. oil imports. Hague- based Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Chevron Corp. (CVX) of San Ramon, California, Total SA (FP) of France and Italy’s Eni SpA (ENI) run joint ventures with the state- owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that pump more than 90 percent of the West African nation’s oil.
Since Nigeria’s return to civilian government in 1999 after 15 years of military rule, the PDP has presided over the spending of more than $300 billion in oil export revenue. During that time income disparities have widened, with 54 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day, about 22 million citizens illiterate, and maternal mortality of 800 per 100,000 live births, a rate among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
Investor concern over the recent surge of election and sectarian violence triggered increased domestic demand for foreign currency, central bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said in a March 15 interview in Abuja. That has weakened the naira, which reached an 18-month low against the dollar on March 17.
While an armed insurgency in the Niger River delta that cut more than 28 percent of the nation’s oil output from 2006 to 2009 remains relatively quiet, parts of the north have been hit by a mounting campaign of violence by Islamist militants inspired by Afghanistan’s Taliban movement.
“If Nigeria’s elections are not a significant improvement over 2007, and if the current elections do not meet the expectations of a majority of voters, the Nigerian people will lose confidence in their leaders, their democratic institutions, and the capacity of Nigeria to sustain a positive democratic trajectory,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said in April 5 remarks at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.