Polling stations opened across Nigeria on Saturday for gubernatorial and state assembly elections, two weeks after a historic first opposition win in the presidential race.
Some 760 candidates are in the running for 29 governor and deputy governor positions, while 5,290 hopefuls are seeking local assembly seats in all 36 of Nigeria’s states.
Voting proper is due to get under way on Saturday afternoon, once the 68.8 million registered voters have had their credentials checked.
Nigeria’s main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is tipped to build on its presidential win by Muhammadu Buhari against President Goodluck Jonathan, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The PDP currently has 21 governors while the APC has 14.
“The still-ruling PDP will likely lose its majority of the governorships, partly from the bandwagon effect, incumbency fatigue and the APC’s momentum in regions like the southwest and Middle Belt,” the Eurasia Group said in a briefing note on Friday.
But the group’s head for Sub-Saharan Africa, Philippe de Pontet, said the key state of Rivers, in the oil-producing southern delta region, would go to the PDP.
Governors are increasingly influential figures in Nigeria’s federal system of government, exercising near-total control over their states, including finances and projects at the local level.
As a group they have become a considerable force to counter or bolster presidential power.
Polling stations opened from 8:00 am (0900 SA time), with mixed reports of election officials having arrived early and swift accreditation to the non-arrival of volunteers and materials.
In Rivers — a key prize for both sides because of the huge revenues from the oil and gas sector that is largely based in the state — APC supporters alleged rigging on the part of the PDP in one area.
“We are protesting that there should be no election in this area because they (the PDP) have changed the ballot papers and results sheets with fake ones,” protest leader Kingsley Wuolodi told AFP.
The state was on an overnight lockdown until 6:00 am to prevent trouble and there was a high security presence in the capital, Port Harcourt, with soldiers and police screening vehicles.
Animosity between outgoing APC governor Rotimi Amaechi and Jonathan plus previous rigging claims at the presidential vote have provided for high tension and fears of violence.
Elsewhere, a close race is predicted between APC candidate Akinwunmi Ambode and the PDP’s Jimi Agbaje for control of Lagos, which drives Nigeria’s economy.
The megacity of 20 million people and the surrounding state of the same name have been in opposition control since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
The APC could oust the PDP in the central state of Plateau and in the northern state of Kaduna, where nearly 70 percent of people voted for Buhari, who lives in the state capital, experts predict.
Nigeria could also see its first female governor, with the APC’s Aisha Jummai Alhassan running in Taraba state.
Nationwide, Nigeria’s police and security services have ordered restrictions on the movement of vehicles during polling hours and closed the country’s land borders.
Fears of poll-related violence and attacks by Boko Haram Islamists provided the backdrop for the presidential elections but despite several sporadic incidents, widespread violence did not materialise.
But the government has called for a similar level of vigilance.
Handheld devices to authenticate voter identities are again being used in order to cut electoral fraud that has blighted previous elections, despite some malfunctions two weeks ago.
Problems with some of the machines in recognising biometric details stored on voter ID cards, including those of President Jonathan, forced the election to go into a second day in some places.
Results of the gubernatorial and state assembly votes are expected to come in from Sunday, with winners announced in individual states.
Jonathan, 57, remains president until May 29 when Buhari, 72, is inaugurated as head of state.