Yenagoa, Nigeria | AFP | Nigeria’s ruling party on Monday won the key oil-rich state of Bayelsa, the electoral body said, a sign of President Muhammadu Buhari’s growing influence in opposition strongholds.
Residents cast their ballots in hotly-contested gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa and central Kogi state on Saturday in polls marred by sporadic violence and abuses including killings, abductions, vote-buying, the snatching of voting materials and intimidation.
Bayelsa has been ruled by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
It is a key political battleground because of the lucrative oil and gas sector that is largely based in the southern Delta region.
David Lyon of Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) won more than twice the number of votes as his closest rival Douye Diri of the PDP, said the Independent National Electoral Commission.
APC supporters celebrated across the state when the results came in, dancing and singing. Major roads in the capital were blocked by jubilant APC sympathisers, AFP correspondents saw.
In a statement on Monday, the president congratulated the new governor, while deploring the violence that characterised the vote.
“Violence during elections vitiates our commitment to demonstrate to the world and upcoming generation that we are a people capable of electing leaders in a peaceful and orderly manner,” he said.
Those unhappy with the results should seek legal redress rather than resort to violence, he added.
– Govt wins in Kogi state –
Political analysts see the APC’s victory in an opposition stronghold as a sign of Buhari’s growing influence.
“The victory is a big boost for APC and Buhari,” said Dapo Thomas, a politics and history lecturer at Lagos State University.
“It’s a measure of acceptance and popularity of the president and his party in the core oil-rich region, of which Bayelsa is a part,” he added.
“I think it is also a reflection of the changing voting pattern of the people in the region who want to be part of the central government headed by Buhari.”
Bayelsa and Kogi are among seven states where gubernatorial elections are being held at different times from the general election, due to court rulings.
On Monday afternoon, INEC announced that incumbent APC governor Yahaya Bello had claimed a second term in charge of Kogi state after a vote that also saw deadly violence and electoral malpractice.
Police said three people were killed while voting materials were snatched and election officials harassed by gangs loyal to the rival parties.
Bello was returned with 406,222 votes, beating his main opponent Musa Wada of the PDP, who scored 189,704.
State elections are fiercely contested in Nigeria, where governors are powerful figures, controlling state finances and responsible for key areas from education to health.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 190 million people, has a long history of electoral violence.
More than 50 people were killed during the February and March 2019 general election which returned Buhari to power.
In 2011, hundreds of people were killed in post-election violence, mostly in northern Nigeria.
Buhari has promised to reform the electoral system to make future polls free, fair,credible and violence-free.