Jubilant Buhari supporters chant: Change, change

2015-03-31 21:23
Nigerians celebrate the anticipated victory of Muhammadu Buhari in Kaduna. (Jerome Delay, AP)

Nigerians celebrate the anticipated victory of Muhammadu Buhari in Kaduna. (Jerome Delay, AP)

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Abuja - Nigeria's former military leader Muhammadu Buhari claimed a historic election victory in Africa's most populous country on Tuesday, sending thousands of jubilant supporters into the streets chanting "change, change".

Buhari's campaign spokesperson said incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan had called the retired general to concede defeat in the most closely fought election in Nigeria's history.

If confirmed, this would be the first ever democratic change of power in Nigeria and cap a remarkable comeback for the 72-year-old, who headed a short-lived military regime in the 1980s.

With just one state to declare, Buhari is virtually guaranteed victory.

Thousands of jubilant Buhari supporters poured into the streets in celebration, many in northern Nigeria which has borne the brunt of the bloody six-year Boko Haram uprising.

Many brandished brooms to symbolise his promise to clean up corruption in the oil-rich country of 173 million people.

"President Jonathan called at 17:15 (16:15 GMT)," his campaign spokesperson Shehu Garba said. Asked by AFP if Jonathan conceded, he said: "Yes, and General Buhari has accepted and thanks him for this."

There was no immediate comment from Jonathan, his spokesperson or the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), but Buhari's wife Aisha took to Twitter to celebrate.

"We see this as a triumphant show of democracy, a change for the better," she wrote.

Bukhari had told AFP he was "very confident" of victory as counting of votes showed him pulling well ahead of Jonathan.

With 36 out of 37 results in, his All Progressives Congress (APC) had won 20 states, while Jonathan's PDP was on 15, plus the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.

The final result is awaited from Borno state, the heart of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency.

"Change, change," chanted opposition supporters in the northern city of Kaduna.

In Kano, some young men donned black fedoras - which his rival Jonathan is rarely seen without - and put suitcases on their heads to mock the president as people chanted "Out of Aso Rock" (the presidential villa).

Buhari won a landslide victory in Kano, Nigeria's second most-populous state, securing more than 1.9 million votes and 89% of the vote.

"This is the first time the opposition has voted a government out of power in Nigeria's history," said APC spokesperson Lai Mohammed.

Buhari was more than 2.75 million votes ahead of 57-year-old Jonathan, after winning in the northern states of Yobe and Adamawa.

The retired army general won the key prize of Lagos in the southwest but at one point his lead was cut to 500 000 votes after landslide victories for Jonathan in his southern Delta homeland.

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.

Sit-down protest 

There was a brief protest by Jonathan's PDP before the count resumed on Tuesday.

Former Niger Delta minister Godsday Orubebe accused elections chief Attahiru Jega of being "partial" and "selective".

Orubebe claimed Jega had refused to investigate PDP complaints about big wins by Buhari in northern states but had launched a probe into claims by the APC 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."

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."

Fear of violence 

Violence has often flared in previous Nigerian elections 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 Secretary Philip Hammond said in a joint statement on Monday.

"But there are disturbing indications that the collation process - where the votes are finally counted - may be subject to deliberate political interference."

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

Jubilant opposition supporters also took to the streets in Kaduna, one of the areas worst-affected by violence four years ago when some 1 000 people were killed in post-election clashes.

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.

About 2 000 women protesting against the conduct of the elections were teargassed on 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.

Read more on:    nigeria  |  west africa  |  nigeria elections 2015

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