Nigeria votes in key gubernatorial, state assembly polls

Updated 11 April 2015

Nigeria votes in key gubernatorial, state assembly polls

LAGOS: Nigerians return to the polls on Saturday for gubernatorial and state assembly elections, two weeks after the country’s historic first opposition victory in the presidential race.
Polling stations open from 8:00 a.m. (0700 GMT) for the regional vote, which will be watched closely to see whether the opposition translates its national success into gains at the local level.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of President Goodluck Jonathan currently controls 21 of Nigeria’s 36 states. President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) has 14.
Only 29 states will have governorship elections because of mid-term polls held since 2011, while voting for the state assembly is in all 36.
Stakes are high, with state governors in Africa’s most populous nation in a powerful position controlling the purse strings in areas such as local health, education and infrastructure projects.
“The presidency is very distant from most Nigerians, so the governors are essentially the middle men between the presidency and the people on the ground,” said political commentator Chris Ngwodo. “The governors actually have more direct impact on the people than the presidency,” he told AFP.
Buhari won the March 28 presidential election with 54 percent of the vote, securing the first win for the opposition in the country’s history after a gripping and largely peaceful contest.
The 72-year-old campaigned on a slogan of “change”, breaking 16 years of unbroken PDP rule since civilian government was restored against a backdrop of mounting dissatisfaction with the government.
“I think the APC will win more states. It’s quite competitive in a number of places but with the results of the presidential election, one might expect a bandwagon effect in certain states,” said Ngwodo.
“The APC will definitely do better than expected because they have been able to win at a national level,” added Dawn Dimowo, from the africapractice consultancy.
Nigeria’s electoral commission has said new devices to “read” biometric voter identity cards will be used again, despite some malfunctions that hit voting during the presidential elections.
Security will also remain tight, given lingering fears of a repeat of political violence that has blighted previous polls and the threat of Boko Haram attacks.
Both analysts pinpointed several areas where the governorship race will be close or could see a shock:
- Lagos: Nigeria’s financial hub in the southwest drives the country’s economy but turnout in the presidential election was low and the result was close in favour of Buhari.
The megacity of 20 million people and state of the same name has been opposition-controlled since 1999 but candidate Akinwunmi Ambode is facing a strong challenge from the PDP’s Jimi Agbaje.
- Rivers: The oil-producing state in the southern Delta region includes the key city of Port Harcourt and has long been a flashpoint for clashes, including this year.
Extra flavor has come this time round because of outgoing governor Rotimi Amaechi’s defection from the PDP to the APC, his criticism of Jonathan and rigging claims during the presidential contest.
- Kaduna: The religiously and ethnically divided northern state is PDP controlled but two weeks ago nearly 70 percent of people voted for Buhari, who lives in the state capital.
The APC and its candidate Nasir El-Rufai, a former senior government minister, could topple governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero if that is replicated at the local level.
- Plateau: The volatile state in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” where the largely Christian south meets the mainly Muslim north, has been held by the PDP since 1999.
But governor Jonah Jang leaves office for the Senate with opponents angry at his eight-year tenure, particularly in terms of the state’s finances, raising the possibility of a protest vote.
The interior ministry has shut Nigeria’s land borders until Sunday while national police are deploying more officers to potential flashpoints and imposed polling day restrictions on vehicles.
The country’s secret police has warned against politicians stoking violence by making “unguarded, inciting and divisive statements” after increasingly strong rhetoric in recent days.
The government’s spokesman on security, Mike Omeri, also called for “a similar level of vigilance and caution” as two weeks ago because of fears of Boko Haram attacks.
The Islamist militants were suspected of attacking a number of polling stations in the restive northeast but there was no widespread targeting of voters as feared.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had vowed to disrupt the elections.

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”