Pressure builds as votes counted in Nigerian election

Pressure builds as votes counted in Nigerian election
Police in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, monitor members of the opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) as they protest against elections on March 29. (Tife Owolabi / European Pressphoto Agency)

A tense vote count was underway Sunday in Nigeria's bitterly contested election, as the two main rival parties accused each another of releasing false vote counts and plotting anarchy, raising fears the election may end in a disputed result and violence.

Some Nigerians cast ballots on Sunday after voting was extended by one day in some areas because of the failure of handheld biometric devices.


Elections chief Attahiru Jega downplayed the extent of the problems, which led to long delays but didn’t prevent anyone from voting. But he acknowledged Sunday that the failure of three biometric readers to read the thumbprint of President Goodluck Jonathan was “a national embarrassment” that would be investigated.

With the official result expected by late Monday, Jega, who is chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, warned Nigerians to reject any purported results circulating on social media, especially those from partisan sources.

His comments came as the opposition All Progressives Congress demanded the annulment of the vote in volatile Rivers State in the Niger Delta, the heart of Nigeria's crucial oil industry. Numerous cases of violence, ballot box theft, intimidation and lack of voting materials were reported there.

The party complained its agents were barred from attending the vote count and rejected the tally for Rivers State even before it was announced, marching in protest in Port Harcourt on Sunday. An elections commission office in Rivers State was burned down, Jega said.

Speaking at a news conference, he said he had received a formal complaint from the All Progressives Congress and would investigate.

In addition, there were opposition accusations of irregularities in Imo state, also in the southeast. And Jega said there had been complaints of underage voting in eastern Taraba state, which also were under investigation.

Nigeria's election has presented the first real opposition to the governing Peoples Democratic Party which has ruled Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999. Jonathan, 57, is the PDP candidate and faces a strong challenge from the APC's Muhammadu Buhari, a 72-year-old former military ruler.

At stake is control of Africa's largest economy, and its rich oil sector that has been milked for decades by corrupt leaders, with hundreds of billions of dollars going missing, while the government has failed to provide reliable basic services such as water and electricity to the population. Lamido Sanusi, who at the time was head of the Nigerian Central Bank, said last year that $20 billion in national oil revenue disappeared from 2012 to 2013. In response, Jonathan accused him of reckless financial mismanagement and misconduct, and removed him.

The Rivers State dispute and Sunday's heated accusations and counter-accusations over fake results raise the specter of a violently disputed result that could lead to a dangerous political standoff.

The opposition claimed Sunday that top government officials were plotting to scuttle the election. The APC has threatened to set up a parallel government should it lose.

Government spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode claimed the PDP was leading the opposition in 23 of Nigeria's 36 states, a claim rejected by Jega, the electoral commission chief.

The APC began publishing results from polling stations on Saturday but stopped after the elections commission warned against circulating results on social media.

The PDP claimed the publication of the "fake" results was part of a plot to plunge the nation into chaos.

"The APC in its desperation for power has resorted to posting fake results in the social media in a bid to ambush the electoral commission, mislead the unsuspecting public to believe it is winning, all in furtherance of its grand plot to cause confusion and set the stage for violence when the authentic results are finally released," said a statement from PDP national publicity secretary Olisa Metuh. "We therefore alert Nigerians to be on their guard and close ranks in resisting the APC's plot to plunge the nation into chaos and anarchy."


The APC, however, said the government was determined to rig the result.

"The information that we have received … is to the effect that the administration is holding clandestine meetings with security chiefs and others with the sole aim of altering or scuttling the results, which they consider to be highly embarrassing and unpalatable," Lai Mohammed, APC national party secretary, said in a statement Sunday.

"We have always said we will accept the result of any free, fair and transparent elections. However, what we will not accept, and which we are sure Nigerians themselves will reject, is any move to rewrite the results and thwart the will of the people under any guise," he said.

He accused the government of trying to overturn opposition victories in at least six states.

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