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Nigeria Rivers state: 4 Killed as Unrest Halts Re-run Vote

Four people were killed in political violence that has forced the cancellation of election re-runs in the southern Nigerian state of Rivers, police and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said Monday.

Police said four people were killed and 22 arrests were made at the weekend for disrupting the electoral process, which INEC said included the barricading of its offices.

"Of more serious concern was the level of threats, violence and intimidation of election officials and voters by well-armed thugs and miscreants allegedly acting on behalf of some politicians, who marred the elections in some areas," it added.

"There were reports of numerous attacks resulting in fatalities, kidnapping, ballot snatching, diversion of officials and materials, amongst others."

We even saw female opposition supporters in Rivers State protesting against alleged irregularities in the elections.

The unrest led to the suspension of voting in eight of the 23 local government areas, said INEC director of voter education and publicity Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi.

As a result of the violence and intimidation, results were only declared in one federal and nine state constituencies, he added.

Re-runs of last year’s elections for the Rivers state assembly and the national assembly in Abuja were ordered by the courts because of repeated claims of widespread irregularities.

Rivers has long been a key battleground because of its location in the heart of the oil-producing south and its major urban centre, Port Harcourt, the state capital.

The Peoples Democratic Party controls the state but is in opposition to the All Progressives Congress nationally.

Both sides have blamed the other for a spate of politically motivated killings and violence.

Eneruvie Enakoko, a Nigerian writer and campaigner on social issues including political freedom, said the situation was a bad advertisement for Nigeria and had made the country "a laughing stock".

Last year’s largely peaceful presidential vote, which saw an opposition party oust an incumbent president for the first time in Nigeria’s history, was hit by unrest and rigging claims in Rivers.

"The world thinks we cannot get it right. It’s unfortunate that after 17 years of democratic rule, we still cannot have violence-free and credible election," he told the press.

Enakoko blamed impunity, an absence of adequate security and a lack of political will to prosecute election offences for the frequent violence in the state.

"Both parties see Rivers as a goldmine to be exploited. That is why they can go any length, even if it means killing, to have the upper hand," he added.

Dapo Thomas, who teaches history and international relations at Lagos State University, said the violence and disruption showed "we still have a long way to go in our quest for democratic government".

Grievances over the control of oil wealth, combined with high levels of youth unemployment and the proliferation of arms and ammunition were "like a time bomb ready to explode", he added.

"There is frustration and anger among the people for not getting a fair share of their oil wealth. This makes the people easily susceptible to anger and violence," he said.

By Robert Muriisa.

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