Monday, March 30, 2015

Nigeria: Vote-counting under way after close poll

A few months before Nigeria's national elections, both main candidates embraced and promised a peaceful election. That pledge is now under serious threat.

Protesters fired gunshots and torched a local electoral office in Nigeria's oil-rich Rivers state as they marched to protest national elections held to elect Nigeria's next President.

"There's been so much violence in Rivers state that it's just not tenable," said Lai Mohammed, spokesman for the main opposition party, the All Peoples Congress.

The All Peoples Congress says the vote has been rigged, voters intimidated and demanded that the elections held in Rivers state be canceled.

The ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, refutes the accusation, saying the election was "credible and the result reflects the overwhelming wish of the people of Rivers state to support President Goodluck Jonathan."

Heavy rain eventually forced the protesters home, but there are fears that it will take more than rain to stop further protests and violence.

"We are concerned by what seems to be happening," said Attahiru Jega, Nigeria's election chairman, about events in Rivers state.

Nigeria has just held what are thought to be the closest elections since a return to democracy in 1999 after decades of military rule. The two main candidates are incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and retired general Muhammedu Buhari.

What is at stake in the protests in Rivers state is not whether Nigeria can hold an election, but can it hold a "close" election.

Voting is now over and the results are being counted. Jega says the final result will likely be announced within 48 hours.

The fear is that the results may not be accepted by whomever loses.

And if the opposition believes it has been rigged out of victory by the ruling party, then the protests in Rivers state could spread to northern Nigeria. Over 800 people were killed in post-election violence across the north after the 2011 elections were thought to be illegitimate.

And so both candidates have taken to social media to call for calm.

"I want to urge all Nigerians to also wait patiently for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to collate and announce results," stated Jonathan on his Facebook account.

"Fellow Nigerians, I urge you to exercise patience and vigilance as we wait for all results to be announced," said Buhari on Twitter.


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