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Nigeria election: Tense wait for results as race between Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari remains too close to call

Vote-rigging allegations spark fears of violence after presidential poll

Will McBain
Monday 30 March 2015 21:40 BST
Muhammadu Buhari has recorded majority victories in key northern states, including winning 1.1 million votes in the flashpoint city of Kaduna
Muhammadu Buhari has recorded majority victories in key northern states, including winning 1.1 million votes in the flashpoint city of Kaduna (AP)

A former dictator or ‘weak’ leader will emerge as the president of Africa’s most populous nation on Tuesday morning. After an election marred by claims of ballot tampering, there are fears that the result could trigger violence across Nigeria.

The fight between President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, and Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim former general, divided Nigeria along ethnic, regional and religious lines. On Monday night, the race remained too close to call. Mr Buhari recorded thumping majorities in key northern states. The 72-year-old won 1.1 million votes in the flashpoint city of Kaduna compared to the President’s tally of 484,000. Kaduna state was one of 12 where rioting erupted after the last election between Mr Jonathan and Mr Buhari in 2011. An estimated 800 were killed and 65,000 displaced.

In Mr Jonathan’s native Rivers State, the volatile and hotly contested home of Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, the incumbent won 95 per cent of the vote. Mr Buhari’s opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) rejected the outcome in Rivers State and denounced the vote there as “a sham and a charade”.

Allegations of electoral misconduct emerged in at least four different states as the votes were being counted.

Rivers State APC Governor Rotimi Amaechi demanded that results be cancelled. “We discovered that all the SPOs [supervising presiding officers] have stolen all the result sheets and disappeared,” he said. “So we said that there will be no election until we see the result sheets.”

In Lagos, with the APC looking to establish a solid lead, supporters of the ruling PDP party were questioning the conduct of officials. “We have serious concerns that the APC have been in collusion with INEC [Nigeria’s Electoral Commission] officials to change votes,” said an adviser to the PDP’s candidate for governor.

In a measured statement, the US and Britain said there were worrying signs of political interference yesterday. “So far, we have seen no evidence of systemic manipulation of the process,” said the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in a joint statement. “But there are disturbing indications that the collation process – where the votes are finally counted – may be subject to deliberate political interference.”

Tear gas was fired at some 2,000 supporters of the APC in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, as protesters attempted to enter INEC offices in the state capital. They were protesting against the conduct of officials in Rivers State.

In Lagos, streets were unusually quiet as results started to come in. Many people were at home or in bars, glued to the television.

In a sign that the opposition may challenge results elsewhere, the APC governor of the southern Imo state, Rochas Okorocha, denounced the election in his region and accused the military of meddling in the result.

Whatever the result, legal challenges are expected and a possible run-off could be required.

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