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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 01:04 GMT
Corruption clouds Nigeria elections
By Sola Odunfa
BBC, Lagos

Nigerian soldier keeping guard
Nigeria has tightened security for the polls

With voting this weekend in local elections across Nigeria, the spectre of violence is hanging over the country.

Already, at least 17 people have reportedly been killed and more injured in politically-motivated violence in the run-up to the local government elections.

On Thursday night, President Olusegun Obasanjo went on national radio and television to make a special appeal for peaceful conduct in Saturday's polls.

He backed his appeal with a warning that he had put the military on alert to support the police in restoring order wherever necessary.

"We must all eschew violence... and learn to accept election results with magnanimity," he said.

Centres of corruption

He also had words for the candidates.

"This should not be seen as a do-or-die event," he said.

The contests for the council seats this year are being fought with unusual passion because local governments have, in the past four years, become uncontrolled centres of corruption.

Opposition parties... allege state governors are exerting all influence to have their preferred candidates win
The federal government makes a huge statutory allocation of funds to local governments every month but there is nothing to show for the disbursements.

Rather than spend the money on projects with direct impact on the lives of the people in their areas, as prescribed by the constitution, most local government chairmen and councillors are accused of only paying staff salaries and sharing the rest among themselves.

Such was the level of corruption in the local governments in the past four years that many chairmen and councillors who were of little means before their election became affluent within two years.

None of them has, so far, been questioned by federal or state authorities to explain either the source of their sudden wealth or what they did with council funds.

Acquiring wealth

The local governments are now regarded as easy means of acquiring wealth, hence the apparent determination by many candidates to win the elections tomorrow by whatever means.

The local governments are under the direct control of state governments, which also have exclusive responsibility for elections into them.

Opposition parties in the various states allege that state governors are exerting all influence to have their preferred candidates win control of the local councils.

This is so that they may continue, without opposition, to make illegal deductions from federal funds meant for local governments.

The number of local governments in the country at present is not known.

The Nigerian constitution - which came into effect in 1999 - lists 774, but some state governments have adjusted their boundaries and created new ones.

For example, the state government increased the number of local governments in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, from 20 to 57.

The increases were rejected by the National Assembly as unconstitutional, but the courts this week refused to stop elections being held into them on Saturday.

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