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Nigeria police say at least 21 died in election-day violence

Nigeria police say at least 21 died in election-day violence

Nigeria's national police chief called for calm Sunday as he announced that preliminary figures showed 21 people were killed in violence during state elections meant to boost civilian rule and stability.
Early results from Saturday's ballot showed President Olusegun Obasanjo's ruling party winning five out of seven states announced, including oil-rich Rivers state, where an Associated Press reporter witnessed electoral officials stuffing ballot boxes, balloting centers that stayed shut all day and few voters at those that did open.
The electoral commission reported turnout of nearly 90 percent in handing the ruling party a win with similar levels in Rivers state. The official who released the results in the state capital, Port Harcourt, did not take an AP reporter's questions.
Forty-two year old businessman Steven Amakiri was stunned by the announcement.
"That is not true, how can they say that? There was no election," he said. People in the region are "lawabiding people," he said. "But if they are pushed to the wall, they will retaliate."
Police Inspector General Sunday Ehindero told state television that police were still working through their case load after Saturday's vote, but that a preliminary tally showed 21 dead, including an unspecified number of police, and 218 arrests. Nigeria's private daily newspapers reported much higher death tolls.
Ehindero called for calm and said losers in the vote should follow due process and "eschew violence."
"Elections are by and large a competition for power. Some parties are bound to win and some parties are bound to lose," he said. "The losers should be gallant in defeat."
The Vanguard newspaper said 52 people died nationwide Saturday as voters chose their state lawmakers and governors in a test of the electoral system ahead of crucial April 21 presidential elections.
This Day newspaper reported at least 41 people dead in the vast nation of 140 million, and presented a list detailing violence from around the country. Punch newspaper reported 46 dead.
All are private, mass dailies with large numbers of staff across the country.
Election-day violence "was low compared with statistical estimates," Ehindero said. "By and large, I think it is very good."
Most of Saturday's deaths came in fights between supporters of rival political parties or during attempts to steal ballot boxes or otherwise skew the outcome of the vote, according to the papers' reports.
There were no reports of killings by security forces. Previous elections have seen roughly similar levels of violence.
The campaign period saw isolated bouts of violence that left some 70 people dead, human rights groups say. An estimated 15,000 people have died in strife since 1999, when long-held grievances erupted after elections ended 15 years of near-constant and often oppressive military rule.
Saturday's vote was a test of Nigeria's electoral system before next week's presidential election, which will set up the first-ever transfer of power between two elected leaders in Africa's most populous nation.
Early returns Sunday showed Obasanjo's governing People's Democratic Party winning five southern states, with two different opposition parties splitting winnings in two other states.
In Rivers state, the electoral commission said the party won with about 90 percent of the vote.
Voting unfolded relatively peacefully Saturday in most of the country, although many voters waited for hours in front of polling stations that opened late with faulty voter-registration rolls.
In some areas, like in Rivers state, ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities were clearly visible.
Electoral Commission Chairman Maurice Iwu told state television on Saturday that he had reports of a "few problems here and there" but called the vote "a very good first effort in our transition to move from one elected civilian government to another."
Since its independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has never seen power handed from one elected leader to another. Saturday's event will be closely watched by Nigeria's 61 million voters, seeking to determine if the presidential balloting can be fair.
Under Nigeria's federal system, leaders in the 36 states wield great powers and control enormous budgets in Africa's biggest oil producer, meaning the seats are hotly contested.
Obasanjo's 1999 election ended nearly 15 years of military rule. His 2003 re-election was marred by violence and accusations of widespread rigging. All previous elections were scuttled by military coups or annulments.
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Associated Press writer Katharine Houreld in Port Harcourt contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-19 11:19 GMT+08:00