Gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa State (South-South) and Kogi State (Middle-belt) was on Saturday abruptly truncated by spasmodic violence which culminated into a harvest of injuries across both states.
Despite heavily armed security presence seen patrolling the landscape and helicopters hovering within the circumference of the states, voting activities could still be affected.
The Southern oil-rich Bayelsa and central Kogi are among seven states where gubernatorial elections are held at different times from the general election due to court rulings.
Bayelsa has been ruled by the main opposition People’s Democratic Party since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
Counting began on Saturday evening.
Election officials said results had been trickling in but voting would continue in areas where there had been stray violence.
In Bayelsa, the election was canceled in some stations in the Ogbia area following the abduction of an election official and the burning of voting materials.
Voting opened late in most polling stations in the state, with long queues forming in Yenagoa, the state capital, and elsewhere.
In Otuoke, the hometown of former President Goodluck Jonathan, party thugs fought over the late arrival and distribution of voting materials.
Many people were injured in the fracas.
The polls officially closed at 2:00 pm (1300 GMT), but electoral officials said those who had already queued up would be allowed to vote even after the deadline.
Some 900,000 voters are eligible to vote for the candidates of 45 political parties in 1,804 polling stations across Bayelsa.
The leading candidates are David Lyon of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) and PDP’s Douye Diri, a former senator.
The winner of the election will replace PDP Governor Seriake Dickson, who is stepping down after two four-year terms, the legal maximum.
The Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) said over 31,000 police had been deployed in Bayelsa, as well as 87 be gunboats, to prevent violence.
Helicopters, soldiers, riot police
Police helicopters hovered over Yenagoa, while soldiers and anti-riot police mounted roadblocks at major points, an AFP reporter said.
This week, a staffer at a radio station was shot dead and many injured during an attack on a political rally in Bayelsa, and in Kogi state, a campaign office was burnt down.
“Already there have been several instances of violence at election campaign rallies in both Bayelsa and Kogi states,” Amnesty International said.
Voters on Saturday said they wanted a peaceful election.
“We crave a free, fair and hitch-free election in Bayelsa. Everybody should be allowed to exercise his or her franchise without harassment and intimidation,” Joseph Cookey, a textile trader in the southern city of Port Harcourt, told AFP.
Housewife Alice Ebere urged “politicians to shun violence and allow the wish of people to prevail”.
In Kogi where incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of APC is seeking re-election against Musa Wada of PDP and 22 other candidates, a boy was shot in the leg when a group of people stormed into a polling unit and snatched ballot boxes.
Local reports also said some party agents were beaten up at another polling booth in the state.
In Kogi, a total of 35,200 police had been deployed to protect some 1.5 million registered voters, according to INEC.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 190 million people, has a long history of electoral violence, vote-buying, ballot-stuffing, and voter intimidation.
Dozens of people were killed during the 2019 general election which returned Buhari to power.
In 2011, hundreds of people were killed in post-election violence, mostly in northern Nigeria.
Buhari, the 76-year-old general who headed a military regime in the 1980s, has promised to reform the country’s electoral system to ensure free, fair and credible elections.