Rescheduled Election 2011 count down: More than 20 dead in bomb explosions, apprehensions meet new voting in Nigeria

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Hafiz Abubakar Ringim,
An explosion has ripped through an Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Suleja, Niger State, just less than 18 hours to the commencement of voting in Nigeria’s 2011 election.

About 28 20 people, many of them Youth Corps members, who had gone to the INEC office to check their names and postings against Saturdays polls, were reportedly victims of the blast.

The cause of the explosion is not yet known but other victims of the explosion at the Kwamba office include INEC officials who had come to take possession of the voting materials. Eyewitnesses say that the explosion occurred less than than two hours after electoral materials were delivered to the office amidst a security convoy.

Other unconfirmed dead include party agents and officials who had gone there to witness the arrival of the materials.

It was not immediately clear how many people were injured although many of the wounded have been taken to the Suleja General hospital.

When NEXT contacted the state’s Police Public Relatios officer, Richard ADAMU Oguche he said, ” I am driving there now. Please i need to see the place before i can talk to you.”

Yesterday the electoral commission had announced that parliamentary voting had been postponed place in the Niger South senatorial district as well as the Bida/Gbako/Katcha and Lavun/Edasi/Mokwa federal constituencies. The commission has not yet announced if the Friday evening blast would force a further curtailment of the elections.
There had been other violence scenes across the nation as finishing touches are being put into preparations for tomorrow’s election.

The election had been postponed last Saturday as INEC claimed many of the electoral materials were not available. arriving late from printing destinations.

INEC spokesman, Kayode Idowu had said earlier today that the commission suspects the explosion came from a bomb attack. In March, attackers threw a bomb at a political rally in the city, killing at least four people and wounding 20 others.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

However, as millions of voters square up for voting in the election., there has been apprehensions with many scenarios of violence emerging.

IBADAN, Nigeria (AP) – Gang members hired by politicians beat an election official and steal ballot papers. Bus loads of thugs harass opposition parties. A bomb detonates without an apparent target.

Nigeria’s delayed first national election starts Saturday, but already troubles reminiscent of a fatally flawed 2007 vote can be seen across Africa’s most populous nation. Coupled with a failed bombing in the north and an attack by a radical Islamic sect Friday, these signs undoubtedly prove worrying for international observers concerned about one of the top crude oil suppliers to the U.S., as well as those who will place their inked fingers to the ballots.

“Millions of voters may be disenfranchised by being too scared to go out to cast their votes,” recently wrote Kunle Amuwo, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “Politicians who orchestrate violence must be held accountable and prosecuted. Unless violence is swiftly curtailed and contained, there will be no basis for credible elections.”

Nigeria, home to 150 million people, will vote Saturday on who should represent its citizens in its National Assembly. The positions remain highly lucrative, with more than $1 million in salaries and benefits, plus the ability to direct a swollen budget in a nation where billions in oil revenues routinely go missing.

The election was to be held last Saturday, but national election chairman Attahiru Jega stopped it after ballot papers and tally sheets went missing in many of the country’s roughly 120,000 polling stations. Jega twice postponed the election and about 15 percent of the races won’t be held Saturday as misprinted ballots delayed them.

Nigeria’s crucial presidential election, as well as local elections, will take place later this month.

Many hoped Jega, a respected academic, would be able to lead Nigeria out of its dark history of flawed polls marred by violence and ballot-box stuffing since became it a democracy in 1999. However, even he appears now to be overwhelmed by the logistical challenge of conducting elections in a nation twice the size of California that lacks reliable roads and railways.

Professor Attahiru Jega

“One man alone cannot overcome significant systemic and logistical challenges, nor can one person or one electoral event transform a political culture in which stolen elections and disregard for basic democratic principles have been the norm for decades,” Johnnie Carson, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, said in a speech Tuesday.

Outside of Jega’s influence, politicians maintain murky ties with local gangs and militants from the nation’s oil-rich southern delta to its arid north. Human Rights Watch estimates at least 85 people have died in recent months in political violence.

In some areas, election problems appear to have already begun.

In Katsina state, a police spokesman says a local politician hired thugs to beat an election official and steal 200 ballots after Saturday’s failed vote. Those unmarked ballots could, in theory, be used to cast votes in this weekend’s rescheduled poll.

In Kaduna state, officials say a man carrying a bomb died when the explosive detonated Friday, wounding another man. Authorities found two other explosives in the dead man’s home, though they immediately didn’t have a motive for the bomb manufacturing.

In Borno state, police say gunmen from a radical Islamic sect known locally as Boko Haram shot and wounded two officers guarding a church Thursday in Maiduguri. The sect already has killed a leading gubernatorial candidate in the state and appears to attack at will despite a security crackdown.

Security remains a top concern in the country, as official shut its land borders Friday. In Ibadan, a city in southwest Nigeria where fighting remains common, police roared down streets in armored tanks with screaming sirens. One military vehicle appeared to ferry election materials to distribution centers.

During Nigeria’s failed 2007 election, Ibadan and surrounding Oyo state saw everything from fake police officers stuffing ballot boxes to political operatives pushing the fingers of the confused elderly to vote for their party, according to a European Union report on the polls. Violence followed.

Oyo state police spokesman Olatunji Ajimuda told The Associated Press on Friday that such violence wasn’t likely, as security agencies would patrol the streets and enforce a nationwide curfew. However, he acknowledged the power the nation’s wealthy elite and politicians wield.

“Politics is a game,” Ajimuda said. “We just hope the politicians play it that way.”
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Associated Press writers Yinka Ibukun in Lagos, Nigeria; Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria; Muawiya Garba Funtua in Katsina, Nigeria; Salisu Rabiu in Kano, Nigeria and Njadvara Musa in Maiduguri, Nigeria contributed to this report.