Opposition holds lead, wins key state in tense Nigeria vote

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Opposition holds lead, wins key state in tense Nigeria vote

More than half of Nigeria’s states have declared returns in the vote pitting Jonathan against the former military ruler in the closest election ever in Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy.

By (AFP)

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Published: Tue 31 Mar 2015, 6:25 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 9:16 PM

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, left, and opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, right, prepare to sign a renewal of their pledge to hold peaceful "free, fair, and credible" elections, at a hotel in the capital Abuja, Nigeria. - AP photo

Abuja — Nigeria’s opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday won the key prize of Lagos state in the country’s general election, keeping a lead of about two million votes as results came in.

More than half of Nigeria’s states have declared returns in the vote pitting Jonathan against the former military ruler in the closest election ever in Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy.

Buhari, making his fourth run at the presidency, has been buoyed by frustration over endemic corruption, criticism over Jonathan’s handling of the Boko Haram insurgency and a stronger opposition.

The 72-year-old built his early lead in northern states dominated by Hausa-Fulani ethnic group of which he is a member.

Jonathan won near total support of 98.4 per cent in his home state of Bayelsa in the southern, oil-producing Niger Delta, with the key state of Rivers yet to declare, which could offset his losses.

But the win in Lagos in the southwest was a boost for Buhari, with the state seen as a key battleground and countrywide support essential for a win.

So far, Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) have won 12 states, with Jonathan, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on 11 plus the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.

There was a brief protest by the PDP before the count resumed, with former Niger Delta minister Godsday Orubebe accusing elections chief Attahiru Jega of being “partial” and “selective”.

Orubebe claimed Jega had refused to investigate PDP complaints about huge margins won by Buhari in northern states but had launched a probe into APC claims of irregularities in Rivers.

Jega said later: “I don’t believe that the allegations are substantial enough to require the cancellation or rescheduling of the elections in Rivers state. We will take the results.”

The PDP, which has controlled the presidency since the end of military rule in 1999, said the early returns were no cause for concern.

“The(PDP) is unperturbed by the results of the elections so far,” spokesman Olisa Metuh said in a statement.

“The results from (PDP) strongholds will overwhelm those from the (north) and give it a clean and clear victory at the end of the day,” he added.

But Buhari may be encouraged by tallies from two northern states, where he stretched his lead over Jonathan compared to four years ago.

In Kano, the 72-year-old defeated Jonathan by nearly 1.7 million votes after besting the president by roughly one million in 2011.

And in Kaduna, where the two ran neck-and-neck in 2011, Buhari won by 650,000 votes.

Heavily populated Rivers state in the Niger Delta and the economic capital Lagos are among the key areas yet to declare.

International observers gave broadly positive reactions to the conduct of the vote, despite late delivery of election materials and technical glitches with new voter authentication devices.

Nigeria’s Transition Monitoring Group, which had observers across the country, said: “These issues did not systematically disadvantage any candidate or party.”

The PDP and the APC on Sunday traded allegations of vote rigging and other irregularities, raising the possibility of a legal challenge to the results.

Violence has often flared in previous Nigerian votes after the winner is announced and the United States and Britain warned against any “interference” with the count.

“So far, we have seen no evidence of systemic manipulation of the process,” US Secretary of State John Kerry and British foreign minister Philip Hammond said 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.”

Kayode Idowu, spokesman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), told AFP that there was “no evidence of political interference”.

Kaduna, one of the areas worst-affected by violence four years ago when some 1,000 people were killed in post-election clashes, was said to be calm.

Awwal Abdullahi Aliyu, president of the Northern People Unity and Reconciliation Union, warned that places such as Kaduna remained a powderkeg and could “catch fire”, particularly if electoral fraud is suspected in any ruling party victory.

Some 2,000 women protesting against the conduct of the elections were teargassed Monday as they tried to converge on the local electoral commission offices in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt.

The protest over alleged vote rigging by the PDP — and a counter-protest demanding the results hold — forced the Rivers state government to impose an overnight curfew.

The winning presidential candidate needs not just the most votes but at least 25 percent support in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory to avoid a run-off.

Voting was pushed into an unscheduled second day Sunday after failures in controversial new technology designed to read biometric identity cards to combat electoral fraud.

Among those affected by the technical hitches was the president himself.

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