NIGERIA'S first contested local elections in seven years were held peacefully Saturday, but initial reports indicated a very low turnout. The elections, described by the government-owned New Nigerian newspaper as ``a referendum on democracy,'' were contested by two government-created parties - the left-of-center Social Democratic Party and the conservative National Republican Convention.
The parties are meant to represent a break with old regional rivalries. Nigeria has been under military rule for 20 of the 30 years since independence from Britain - years marred by ethnic and religious conflict, corruption, electoral fraud, and violence.
A vice president in the military government, Augustus Aikhomu, said the orderly election vindicated the government's approach. But the News Agency of Nigeria quoted him as saying that it was now necessary to address the issue of apathy among the country's 100 million people.
Under the planned transition to democracy, Nigerians will vote next year in state governorship elections, followed by presidential and national assembly polls in 1992.
The two parties have failed to generate much enthusiasm for their almost-identical manifestos, drafted for them by the armed forces' Ruling Council. Allegations of vote rigging have attracted more attention than policy issues.
``This election is a litmus test of how well they have been able to suppress the influence of the old brigade and establish their own political bases,'' said the Democrat newspaper.
One voter said ``If there is apathy, it's because people have been made aware of what the robber politicians are up to.''