PORT HARCOURT/NIGERIA – Several thousand people on Monday protested against the suspension of governorship elections in Nigeria‘s volatile Rivers state following widespread disruption to the vote.
The All Progressives Congress and African Action Congress marched with civil society groups in the state capital, Port Harcourt, calling for results to be announced.
The Independent National Electoral Commission halted the count on Sunday, citing violence at polling stations, kidnapping of staff, confiscation and destruction of results.
“As a stakeholder in peace, we are not happy that this process was aborted mid-way,” protest organiser and APC member of the Rivers state parliament Victoria Nyeche told AFP.
“INEC should conclude the elections by announcing results. If there are issues the election tribunal is there to resolve them.
“What INEC has done is illegal and an invitation to crisis.”
AFP reporters in Port Harcourt said the atmosphere was tense, and soldiers manned roadblocks throughout the city, which has long been a flashpoint for political violence.
The APC of President Muhammadu Buhari – which is in power nationally but in opposition in Rivers – had no candidate in the governorship election because of irregularities in its primaries. It urged supporters to back the AAC’s candidate.
Many of those protesting on Monday chanted slogans against the incumbent governor Nyesom Wike, of the Peoples Democratic Party.
The PDP has described the suspension of the count as a “barefaced assault… akin to a coup d’etat” and condemned the use of soldiers to “ambush the electoral process”.
“Army, police and INEC are working with APC to subvert the will of Rivers people,” added Wike.
But the military said it had “credible intelligence” that armed thugs in army uniform had impersonated soldiers to commit electoral crimes for their political paymasters.
Situation Room, an umbrella group of more than 70 civil society organisations monitoring the vote, renewed its call for an independent inquiry into the entire election.
It said Saturday’s vote, and the presidential and parliamentary polls of 23 February, failed to meet the threshold for credible polls.
Dozens of people have been killed, including in Rivers, where it said since 2011 the “environment for elections feels like a war, disenfranchising citizens who want to participate”.
“This has gravely undermined governance and security in the state,” it added, calling for an end to the impunity enjoyed by those who orchestrated the unrest.