Vote tensions as Nigeria army blocks counting in volatile state

Soldiers block with a truck the road leading to the state headquarters of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on March 10, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 11 March 2019
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Vote tensions as Nigeria army blocks counting in volatile state

  • Most domestic and international observers said last month’s presidential vote was credible, despite well-documented problems

PORT HARCOURT: Dozens of Nigerian soldiers in armored vehicles encircled a vote counting center in the opposition-held oil-rich southern city of Port Harcourt on Sunday, in the latest flashpoint as violence overshadowed Saturday’s closely watched regional elections.
International observers expressed concern over the army action in the capital of southern Rivers State, where AFP reporters at the scene said soldiers blocked roads around the building, sparking a standoff with police who initially resisted with teargas but ultimately backed down.
The British High Commission in Abuja said it was monitoring the situation closely and urged authorities to allow Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) staff “to do their job in safety, without intimidation.”
“Extremely concerned by reports, including from @UKinnigeria observers, of military interference in the election process in Rivers State,” the commission said on Twitter.
Counting is on going after elections on Saturday for governors in 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states, all state assemblies and administrative councils in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja and the INEC is expected to announce the results in the coming days.
It is the second time in a fortnight that the country has gone to the polls after presidential elections in February that saw President Muhammadu Buhari clinch a second term in office.
While voting was largely peaceful, incidents of violence marred the poll, with reports of abductions and killings as well as concerns over vote buying and a strong military presence.
Police on Sunday said three INEC staff were kidnapped in northern Katsina state in an ambush that left a policeman dead during voting on Saturday.
And on Saturday authorities said a local election observer in southeastern Enugu state was killed by a stray bullet as police attempted to disperse demonstrators.
Regional elections are fiercely contested in Nigeria, where governors are powerful and influential figures, controlling state finances and responsible for key areas from education to health.
Most domestic and international observers said last month’s presidential vote was credible, despite well-documented problems.
But tensions remain high as the beaten Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenges the result in court.
The PDP is hoping for victory in some of the 22 states currently run by Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Adding to tensions in Rivers — a volatile state in the oil producing Delta region — is a court ruling barring any APC candidates from standing in the gubernatorial election because of procedural irregularities in the selection process.
Incumbent PDP governor Nyesom Wike, who is considered a favorite to be reelected, has accused the military of complicity in the killing of 16 people in the Abonnema area of the state.
Three people were killed in Rivers on Friday, according to the transport minister, following clashes between APC and PDP supporters.


‘Huge’ challenges ahead as Cyril Ramaphosa takes presidential oath in South Africa

Updated 25 May 2019
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‘Huge’ challenges ahead as Cyril Ramaphosa takes presidential oath in South Africa

  • Promised a new era in which officials will improve the lives of South Africans
  • South Africa is the world’s most economically unequal country

PRETORIA: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday urged the country to pursue “an extraordinary feat of human endeavor” as he was sworn in for a five-year term with a delicate fight against government corruption ahead of him.
“The challenges our country face are huge and real. But they are not insurmountable. They can be solved. And I stand here today saying they are going to be solved,” Ramaphosa told some 30,000 people in the capital, Pretoria, with several African leaders in attendance.
He promised a new era in which officials will improve the lives of South Africans instead of enriching themselves. He called for a state free from graft and “resources squandered,” and urged fellow citizens to end poverty in a generation. Both would be immense achievements: Corruption and mismanagement have consumed billions of rand, and South Africa is the world’s most economically unequal country.
Ramaphosa’s inauguration followed his ruling African National Congress party’s 57.5% victory in this month’s election. It was the party’s weakest showing at the ballot box since the ANC took power at the end of the harsh system of racial apartheid in 1994, as voter turnout and confidence fell.
Ramaphosa first took office last year after former president Jacob Zuma was pressured to resign amid corruption scandals that badly damaged public faith in the ANC. A former protege of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa is seen by many as having the potential to clean up both the government and the ruling party’s reputation. Without him the ANC likely would have received just 40% of the vote, one party leader, Fikile Mbalula, has said.

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ROYAL CONGRATULATIONS

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent Ramaphosa a cable of congratulations on his swearing in. 
The crown prince expressed his sincere congratulations, best wishes for success and further progress for the people of South Africa

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There was no sign at Saturday’s ceremony of Zuma, who has insisted he did nothing wrong and that allegations are politically motivated. His allies within the ANC leadership pose a challenge to Ramaphosa as he pursues reforms.
Ahead of the election Ramaphosa apologized to South Africans for the political turmoil. He also vowed to continue the fight against graft that has hurt the country’s economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa.
The president’s resolve to impose clean governance will be tested with the appointment of his new Cabinet in the coming days. He faces pressure from opposition parties and civil society to reduce the number of ministers — there are now 34 — and appoint ones who are scandal-free.
In a sign his efforts are working, former deputy president David Mabuza was not sworn in as a member of Parliament due to an incriminating report on him by the ANC’s integrity commission. For now, Ramaphosa is without a deputy.
In his speech on Saturday the president also addressed public frustration with joblessness, patchy delivery of basic services and the legacy of inequality. Unemployment is above 25% and much of the country’s wealth and private levers of power are held by the small white minority.
“Many South Africans still go to bed hungry,” Ramaphosa said. “Many live lives of intolerable deprivation. Too many of our people do not work, especially the youth.”
One challenge for the president in the years ahead is engaging potential voters in South Africa’s “Born Free” generation , who never experienced apartheid and unlike their parents see the ANC not as a party of liberation but one expected to deliver for the future.