Deadly rioting erupted across Nigeria’s largely Muslim north on Monday as youths torched churches and homes in anger at President Goodluck Jonathan’s election victory.
Jonathan, the first president from the oil producing Niger Delta, was declared the winner with around 57% of votes. He defeated Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler from the north, who got around 31%.
Observers have called the poll the fairest in decades in Africa’s most populous nation. But Buhari’s supporters accuse the ruling party of rigging and rejected the results.
The results show how polarised the country is, with Buhari sweeping the north and Jonathan winning the largely Christian south. Jonathan had nearly 23-million votes to just over 12-million for Buhari.
The Nigerian Red Cross said churches, mosques and homes had been burned in rioting across the north and many people had been killed, but it was impossible to give a toll for now.
“In Kaduna we have seen dead bodies lying by the road,” Red Cross official Umar Mairiga said. “Two thousand people have been displaced at one military camp alone.”
Authorities in the northern state of Kaduna imposed a 24-hour curfew after protesters set fire to the residence of Vice President Namadi Sambo in the town of Zaria and forced their way into the central prison, releasing inmates.
The body of a small boy shot in the chest by a stray bullet was brought to a police station.
“They have destroyed our cars and our houses. I had to run for my life and I am now in my neighbour’s house,” said Dora Ogbebor, a resident of Zaria whose origins are in the south.
Plumes of smoke rose into the air in parts of Kaduna as protesters set fire to barricades of tyres. Security forces fired in the air and used teargas to disperse groups of youths shouting “We want Buhari, we want Buhari”.
Police said the violence was political rather than ethnic or religious. Twelve years after the end of military rule, the army said it stood fully behind the government and democratic rule.
Jonathan appealed to all politicians to end violence.
“No one’s political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian,” he said in a statement.
Buhari was yet to make any public statement on the violence despite appeals by foreign embassies that he call for calm.
The former general’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party said in a letter to the electoral commission that voters had been intimidated, ballot boxes stuffed in Jonathan’s strongholds and computers set up to deprive it of votes.
“What is being exhibited to the world is not collated from polling units but from the state headquarters where a lot of manipulations, we believe, had taken place,” the party said.
Nigeria has a history of rigged and violent elections but Saturday’s vote was deemed by many Nigerians, and foreign observers, to have been a vast improvement on the past.
“Election day showed a generally peaceful and orderly process,” said chief European Union election observer Alojz Peterle. EU observers said 2007 elections were not credible.
The independent Swift Count monitor group said the official results were right in line with what they would have expected based on their samples from a random selection of nearly 1 500 of the 120 000 polling stations across Nigeria.
The outright win for Jonathan could ease worries over potential disruptions to crude exports from Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry — far away from the disturbances in the north.
It could also lift local financial markets which had been unnerved by the prospect of a potential run-off and the All-Share Index closed up 2.3% to its highest in nearly a month.
“We will see a lot of investors come back to Nigeria,” said Alan Cameron, London-based economist of stockbroker CSL.
The troubles in the north, on the fringes of the Sahara desert, are far from the oil-producing regions and heaving industrial centres of the south.
Buhari, who also lost elections in 2003 and 2007, has repeatedly said Nigerians would not accept another rigged vote. He told Reuters on Saturday he would not go to court to challenge the outcome but that his party may choose to do so. — Reuters