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Violence Keeps Many Away From Nigeria Polls

At least 40 people are killed over two days. Numerous irregularities are reported.

March 28, 2004|From Times Wire Services

LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigerians stayed away from local council elections Saturday after at least 40 people were killed in two days of violence that has undermined confidence in the country's 5-year-old democracy.

Five people were killed in the oil-rich southern delta Saturday in gunfights during the election, while several others suffered machete wounds in a dispute over ballot stuffing, said Anyakwee Nsirimovu of the Transition Monitoring Group, which is keeping tabs on the election.

Six political activists were shot dead in central Benue state Friday and Saturday, police said.

Nine people were killed by suspected political thugs in the southeastern oil city of Port Harcourt on Thursday, while 20 more were slain in a feud between Christians and Muslims in central Plateau state Friday.

Fears of violence and legal disputes prompted officials to cancel voting in more than 100 of about 800 municipal districts.

Festus Okoye, chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group, said ruling and opposition party politicians used armed thugs to intimidate voters. Before the vote, local election officials disqualified some candidates and used "subterfuge and other devious" tactics such as creating new districts without informing the opposition soon enough to field candidates, he said.

The council positions are widely sought after because they control lucrative allocations from Nigeria's state oil revenue.

A Reuters correspondent saw electoral officials filling in ballot papers for the ruling People's Democratic Party in view of five policemen and five PDP militiamen in Port Harcourt.

Many Nigerians accuse politicians of enriching themselves from oil export earnings without delivering basic services.

Rights activist Chima Ubani said the disillusionment was a threat to the survival of democracy, which was restored in 1999 with the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo after 15 years of military rule.

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