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Tuesday, 17th July 2018
1:55:41am

West Africa

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A candidate from Nigeria's ruling party won a key state gubernatorial on Sunday, the electoral body said, marking an early victory for President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of general elections next year.

Challenger Kayode Fayemi, former solid minerals minister of the All Progressives Congress (APC), won the fiercely-contested election in Ekiti state, defeating incumbent Peter Ayo Fayose from the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP).

"John Olukayode Fayemi of the APC, having satisfied the requirement of the law and scored the highest number of votes, is hereby declared the winner," said Abel Olayinka, Independent National Electoral Commission officer, in a statement.

The election, which the APC won by 19 338 votes, was free from violence but vote-buying was an issue, said international observers on the ground. 

"Money rain in Ekiti as PDP, APC entice voters with cash," wrote the Vanguard, a Nigerian newspaper.

"Unfortunately, I think it has become part of the system here," said Sentell Barnes, from the International Republican Institute, a US pro-democracy group.

"Before people would stuff ballots, but now that's harder to do with the card reader, so now you find people using money to influence people."

Nigeria's 2015 presidential election, in which Buhari made history by becoming the first opposition candidate to unseat an incumbent, was widely praised as free and fair.

Analysts were watching the high-stakes gubernatorial elections as litmus test of Buhari's popularity and the strength of Nigeria's young democracy.

"There's a perception that the ruling party is determined to hold onto power next year and the elections in Ekiti and Osun will serve... as a test of how much force they are willing to use," said Cheta Nwanze, of Lagos-based SBM Intelligence.

Buhari, 75, is under pressure to secure a second term as he faces rising violence across the country, from Boko Haram jihadists in the northeast as well as renewed bloodshed in the long-running farmer-herder conflict that has killed 1 000 people since January.

-AFP

Nigeria’s main opposition parties have agreed to form an alliance to field a joint candidate to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari in next year’s presidential election, they said in a memorandum on Monday. 

Buhari’s ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) split last week when one faction declared it no longer supported his government, threatening the 75-year-old former military ruler’s hopes of securing a second term in the Feb. 2019 elections.

The splinter group, known as the Reformed-All Progressives Congress (R-APC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and 37 other political parties are in the new alliance hoping to defeat the APC.

“The parties agreed to ensure the emergence of a joint presidential candidate,” said the memorandum, which was read out by Tom Ikimi of the PDP. 

“The leadership of the parties are hereby committed to work together in a Coalition of United Political Party (CUPP),” it said, adding that the modalities of the new alliance still had to be agreed.

The alliance could pose a major threat to Buhari’s re-election bid as the rifts within his APC threaten to split support for the president within Nigeria’s powerful patronage networks and among voters ahead of 2019 election.

Buhari announced in April that he would seek another term. His candidacy depends on party approval, though that is usually seen as a formality for the incumbent.

Political parties in Nigeria must select their candidates for the election between Aug. 18 and Oct. 7.

Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer and richest economy. It plays a key role in the regional fight against Islamist militants.

-Reuters

Nigeria's military command says it has handed to the government and the United Nations more than 180 former child soldiers who had been arrested or rescued in various military operations in Nigeria's northeast.

Commander Nicholas Rogers said on Monday during the handover ceremony in Maiduguri that the children were former Boko Haram fighters being turned over in line with international humanitarian laws. He said many children coerced into using weapons against the state were killed in fighting between Boko Haram and government forces.

The UN Children's Agency says the children's release comes after they were cleared of ties to Boko Haram. It said eight girls and 175 boys will receive medical attention and psychosocial support before reuniting them with their families. The children range in age from seven to 18 years.

-AP

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara named a new government on Tuesday, but the key positions of finance, defence and agriculture were unchanged, a presidential spokesman said. 

Ouattara dissolved the administration last week because of a row between his RDR party and its ruling coalition partner, the PDCI of Henri Konan Bedie, whose support helped the president get elected in 2011 and 2015.

Few of the 36 ministerial jobs were changed in a re-jigging that was largely cosmetic. A handful of extra jobs went to the PDCI and one key post went to an ally of national assembly head Guillaume Soro.

Soro is a former rebel leader who loosely controls armed factions of the military that have staged several mutinies in the past few years.

Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly will retain the finance portfolio, Hamed Bakayoko retains defence and Mamadou Coulibaly Sangafowa remains agriculture minister, said Patrick Achi, secretary general of the presidency.

Foreign investment and a plethora of lucrative cash crops, including 40 percent of the world’s cocoa, have enabled Ivory Coast to become one of Francophone Africa’s most prosperous economies. But political squabbling, which sometimes spills over into ethnic conflict, periodically threatens its stability.

It was divided for nearly a decade between a government-controlled south and rebel-held north, ending in a short civil war that killed 3,000 people after a disputed poll in 2010. Many fear that old rivalries over power and land could easily flare up again at the 2020 election.

Government spokesman and Ouattara loyalist Bruno Kone was moved to construction and urbanisation minister. His replacement was Claude Isaac, a senior PDCI member. Jean Claude Kouassi, also PDCI, became the new minister of energy and mines - to replace a minister who left in April.

Sidiki Konate, a close Soro aide, was made minister of arts and culture.

The two parties had fallen out over the PDCI’s insistence on a candidate of its choosing in the 2020 election. The party last month spurned the idea of a joint ticket if this condition was not met. It was unclear whether this will resolve the spat.

Several PDCI members, including a party spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment. Julien Kouao, a political analyst in Abidjan, doubted Ouattara’s reshuffle would appease the PDCI. 

“This newly formed government could deepen divisions,” Kouao said. “We are far from achieving the political cohesion necessary to resolve this.”

-Reuters 

Nigeria's remote northeast is in a "post-conflict stabilisation phase", President Muhammadu Buhari said on Friday, despite persistent attacks by Boko Haram insurgents.

The Islamist insurgency has devastated the region since 2009, leaving at least 20 000 dead, displacing more than 2.6 million others and triggering a wider humanitarian crisis.

Buhari, his military commanders and government have repeatedly insisted for several years that the jihadists were on the verge of defeat, despite frequent evidence to the contrary.

But his latest statement goes further as it implies a total end to hostilities. 

Addressing troops in the garrison town of Monguno, some 140km from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, Buhari said Boko Haram fighters were surrendering "willingly".

"It's evident that we are in a post-conflict stability phase, which has been made possible by the good work of our armed forces," he added.

Former military ruler Buhari came to power three years ago on a promise to defeat Boko Haram, which is aligned to the Islamic State group and threatens security in the Lake Chad region.

But while there have been clear military gains since a counter-insurgency was launched in early 2015, suicide bombings and raids remain a constant threat, particularly to civilians.

Last month, 43 people were killed in a wave of suicide attacks in the town of Damboa, 90km southwest of Maiduguri. Soldiers and civilians have also been killed in Niger and Chad.

The United Nations said in a progress report of its operations in Nigeria this year to May 31 that "large-scale displacements" of people were still a weekly occurrence.

"In the past seven months, since hostilities intensified in the northeast, over 130 000 people have been displaced, sometimes for the second or third time," it added.

It warned that such displacements would continue into at least next month, while aid workers have expressed concern about the government encouraging IDPs to return home.

Towns and villages damaged and destroyed by nine years of fighting lacked shelter, clean water, sanitation, health and education facilities, and security remained volatile.

Buhari, 75, is seeking re-election in February next year and aid workers said his latest statement about hostilities was likely political.

He is also under pressure from increasing insecurity elsewhere, including renewed bloodshed in a long-running farmers-herders conflict that has left some 1,000 dead since January.

"Everything points to the fact that there's still major, major problems" in northeast Nigeria, one aid worker told AFP.

-AFP

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