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Sunday, April 26, 1998 Published at 02:09 GMT 03:09 UK

World: Africa

Nigerians snub polls
image: [ First Nigerian parliamentary elections in four years ]
First Nigerian parliamentary elections in four years

Opposition groups in Nigeria say their call for a boycott of Saturday's general election was a success, with turnout reported as generally low.

BBC Correspondent Hillary Andersson reports from the polling booths (1'41")
Most people stayed away from the polling stations in the capital Abuja and many parts of northern Nigeria, where military leader General Sani Abacha has his power base.

Turnout was also poor in the opposition heartland around the southwestern commercial capital of Lagos.

The main opposition alliance, United Opposition for Democracy, said the boycott was successful because people had lost faith in the government's programme for transition to democratic rule.

[ image: Opposition has called for a boycott]
Opposition has called for a boycott
The boycott was called after the five legal political parties backed General Abacha as sole presidential candidate in elections due later this year.

One presiding electoral officer in Lagos said only 22 people out of more than 500 registered in the district had put their ballot papers in the box.

State radio described the turnout as mixed, and said that, apart from the arrest of a few troublemakers, polling had gone smoothly.

Politicians complained that the authorities only published the list of approved parliamentary candidates on Thursday, which they say was not in time for the candidates to campaign properly.

BBC Correspondent Hillary Andersson asks Nigerians - are the elections democratic? (2'57")
United Action for Democracy has threatened unspecified mass protest action in addition to supporting the boycott.

The former police chief Mohammed Yusufu added his weight to the call by the opposition to boycott the poll.

"Nigerians should stay at home and let the military vote for themselves," he said in a statement.

Mr Yusufu was defeated by Abacha in a disputed ballot for a party nomination on Monday which gave Nigeria's strongman a five-out-of-five sweep of the parties allowed to name presidential candidates.

[ image: Five parties taking part support General Abacha]
Five parties taking part support General Abacha
On the eve of voting, five people were killed in an explosion in the south-western town of Ile-Ife. It was the second suspected bomb in three days.

Turnout at the last elections held for state assembly elections in December was tiny across most of the country. Analysts blamed the low turnout on a sense of political apathy

General Abacha seized power in a coup in 1993 and has since faced international condemnation for human rights abuses and refusing to hand power to an elected civilian government.

The BBC correspondent in Nigeria says these elections elections are being held up by the authorities as a sign that the military is moving the country towards democracy and a civilian government.

But she says they appear to have heightened tensions instead of easing them.


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