By Elisha Bala-Gbogbo and Dulue Mbachu - Apr 2, 2011 9:27 AM ET
Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, delayed legislative elections scheduled to start today until April 4 due to the late arrival of voting materials, the head of the electoral commission said.
“There’s insufficient time for voting materials to reach all the polling centers,” Attahiru Jega, head of the Independent National Electoral Commission, told reporters today in Abuja, the capital. Because the ballot stations that had opened were still accrediting voters, “the stoppage hasn’t affected voting.”
At stake in the national legislative vote in Africa’s top oil producer are 109 senate seats and 360 seats in the House of Representatives. The main opposition parties, Action Congress of Nigeria and the Congress for Progressive Change, aim to cut the majority the People’s Democratic Party won in both houses four years ago by saying it failed to reduce poverty, corruption and violence.
“In the circumstances it was best to postpone,” Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, which is monitoring the electoral process, said in a phone interview today from Abuja. “It would’ve been more grievous if the elections had gone on because it would’ve been inconclusive.”
More than 50 people have died in election-related violence since July, according to Amnesty International, while sectarian clashes in the north have claimed the lives of at least 200 since Dec. 24. In a March 3 attack, at least 10 people died when explosives were hurled at a rally of President Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP in the town of Suleja.
Nigeria is the fifth-largest source of U.S. oil imports. Hague-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Chevron Corp. (CVX) of San Ramon, California, Total SA (FP) of France and Italy’s Eni SpA (ENI) run joint ventures with the state- owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that pump more than 90 percent of the West African nation’s oil.
Since Nigeria’s return to civilian government in 1999 after 15 years of military rule, the PDP has presided over the spending of more than $300 billion in oil export revenue. During that time income disparities have widened, with 54 percent of the population living on less than a dollar a day, about 22 million citizens, illiterate, and maternal mortality of 800 per 100,000 live births, a rate among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
The vote is a prelude to the presidential contest next weekthat pits Jonathan against 18 rivals, including former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and the ex-head of the anti- graft agency, Nuhu Ribadu, who is the candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria. A week after that, voters choose the governors and legislatures of Nigeria’s 36 states.
The concern about sectarian and election-related violence has sparked domestic demand for foreign currency, central bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said in a March 15 interview in Abuja. That has weakened the naira, which reached an 18-month low against the dollar on March 17.
“People want to see a smooth transition, a free and fair election before they bring back the money,” he said.
While an armed insurgency in the Niger River delta that cut more than 28 percent of the nation’s oil output from 2006 to 2009 remains relatively quiet, parts of the north have been hit by a mounting campaign of violence by Islamic militants inspired by Afghanistan’s Taliban movement.
Elections in 2003 and 2007 were marred by violence, voter intimidation and the stuffing of ballot boxes.
Jonathan pledged a more transparent vote this year and won plaudits by appointing Jega, a respected academic, to head the electoral commission.
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