Nigerians today will elect governors and legislators for the country's 36 states in a rehearsal for a presidential vote next week -- as police stand by on alert for violence.
Amid major voter worries over widespread corruption, major parties see today's vote as an indicator of their chances in the April 21 election of a successor to President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is ending his second four-year term.
The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) controls 28 states and a top party official predicted the PDP would win more this time, including the state of Lagos, which has been controlled by the opposition Alliance for Democracy since 1999.
"Lagos is key to our victory," PDP's regional vice chairman Bode George said.
Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu warned however against turning the state into "a war zone."
Police are on election alert for political violence. In the past nine months two governorship candidates have been assassinated and several dozen others have also been killed.
Oil-related violence in the Niger Delta has also reached such a level that EU observers monitoring the polls will not deploy to the three major oil states -- Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta -- for security reasons.
But federal police spokesman Haz Iwendi said: "We are ready for Saturday's poll. The inspector general of police has put all state police commissioners on the alert to ensure adequate security in their respective states."
"Nigeria cannot afford to fail. The international community is watching events in Nigeria. If we fail, the entire continent of Africa has failed because we are the largest democracy in the continent," he said.
Independent National Election Commission boss Maurice Iwu also sought to ease fears of trouble.
"Everything will be done to ensure that Nigerians are able to freely elect the leaders of their choice," he said.
Many Nigerians are worried about corruption, though as they consider their election choices.
A poll published this week by the Guardian daily indicated that 30 percent of Nigerians see corruption as a key issue in the forthcoming elections and 19 percent say candidates are motivated by selfish interests.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is investigating 15 incumbent governors. Several others have been removed from office and two are on the run.
Heads started to roll in 2005 when Bayelsa governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was arrested in London. British police seized ?1.8 million (US$3.5 million) from one of his houses.
For this poll the election commission has accepted only "credible aspirants from the 50 registered political parties," according to its spokesman Segun Adeogun.
The election commission has already eliminated a large number of candidates suspected of being corrupt on the recommendation of the crimes commission.
It "will not hesitate to disqualify a candidate at the last minute if necessary," Adeogun said.
The opposition, however, accuses the anti-graft agency of pursuing only the political adversaries of the outgoing president.
In Lagos, one of the most populous states, 22 candidates are jostling for the governorship post and 392 for the 40 local state parliament seats.
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