Muhammadu Buhari gains early lead In Nigeria' Presidential Election
ON A KNIFE EDGE: Results from Nigeria's weekend elections, potentially the closest contest since the end of military rule in 1999, started trickling in yesterday after a vote that was praised by observers, despite sporadic violence and fears of manipulation Image by: REUTERS
Nigerian presidential challenger Muhammadu Buhari recorded thumping majorities in key northern states yesterday as the US and Britain expressed concerns about meddling with the vote count.
Buhari, 72, a former military ruler, won 1.1 million votes in the flashpoint city of Kaduna.
He has campaigned as a born-again democrat intent on cleaning up the corrupt politics of Africa's most populous nation.
President Goodluck Jonathan, a 57-year-old southern Christian, won 484000 votes there.
The city was a scene of three days of bloodletting after Buhari lost to Jonathan in the 2011 election. It was tense but quiet as the results trickled in, with no traffic on the roads and many shops and homes shuttered.
Buhari, a northern Muslim, also won 1.9million votes in Kano against 216000 for Jonathan, an indication of the political polarisation that has deepened over the past five years under Jonathan's People's Democratic Party (PDP).
Although the economy has been growing at 7% or more, it has been marred by scandals over billions of dollars in missing oil receipts.
There has also been eruption of an Islamist insurgency in which thousands have died.
All this has undermined Jonathan's popularity.
Although the early results will hearten the Buhari camp, they are far from conclusive in an election forecast to be the closest since the end of military rule in 1999.
In Rivers state, in his home Niger Delta region, the volatile and hotly contested home of Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, Jonathan won a massive 95% of the vote.
The results from states such as Rivers have prompted suspicion among diplomats, observers and the opposition, whose sympathisers took to the streets in protest.
Police fired tear gas at about 100 female supporters of Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) demonstrating outside the regional offices of the Independent National Election Commission.
"Their intention was to destroy INEC materials," a policeman said.
The weekend vote was marred by confusion, technical glitches, arguments and occasional violence.
But in many places the election proved to be less chaotic than previous elections in Africa's biggest economy and top oil producer.
At least 15 people were shot dead on polling day. Most of them were shot in the northeast, where the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram has declared war on democracy in its fight to revive a mediaeval caliphate in the sands of the southern Sahara.
But the US and Britain said after the vote there were worrying signs of political interference in the centralised tallying of the results.
Such views are likely to fuel an APC belief of political skulduggery. They could increase the chances of a repeat of the 2011 post-election violence in which 800 people were killed, most of them in the predominantly Muslim north.
Even before preliminary tallies were recorded on Sunday, the party rejected the outcome in Rivers state and denounced the vote there as "a sham and a charade''.