Buhari closes in on upset victory in Nigeria vote, to end ruling party’s 16 years in power

Would be arguably the most consequential political event in Africa in the last decade, says analyst.

FORMER Nigerian military ruler Muhammadu Buhari appeared to be heading for victory in Nigeria’s presidential election with results from just four of the 36 states still outstanding.

Buhari won 53.4% of the vote and President Goodluck Jonathan 42.6% in 32 states and the Federal Capital Territory, the Independent National Electoral Commission said in Abuja, the capital. Eight states that Buhari lost to Jonathan in 2011 swung in his favor.

The election, a key test of stability in Africa’s largest oil producer, pitted Jonathan, a 57-year-old southern Christian, and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP), against Buhari, a 72-year-old northern Muslim, and 12 other candidates, none of whom garnered more than 0.2% of the vote. The PDP has governed Nigeria since the army relinquished power in 1999.

“The incoming results from the electoral commission support a likely win for Buhari,” Philippe de Pontet, Eurasia Group’s head of Africa, said in an e-mailed report on Tuesday. “This would be a watershed upset victory by the opposition in Africa’s largest economy—arguably the most consequential political event in Africa in the last decade.”

Buhari won Nigeria’s two biggest states, Kano in the north and Lagos, site of the commercial capital, in the south. Results are outstanding from two northern states that are opposition strongholds.

Rivers turmoil

APC spokesman Lai Mohammed said by phone his party was confident they would win, though would wait for official results before declaring victory.

A PDP official, Godsday Orubebe, disrupted the result announcements in Abuja, the capital, claiming electoral commission chairman Attahiru Jega was biased because INEC investigated complaints from Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers state and not those of the ruling party in Kaduna, Kano and Katsina.

Jega later rejected a demand by the APC to annul the vote in the oil-producing state of Rivers, where Jonathan won by a margin of 1.48 million votes to 62,238 for Buhari.

Port Harcourt was calm on Tuesday morning. Most shops remained shut and residents stayed indoors. Businesses were also closed in the northern city of Kaduna and the streets of the central business district were largely deserted.

An observer mission from the European Union said Monday that while there were logistics and communications problems in the vote at the weekend, there was no evidence of a systematic manipulation of the process. Its conclusions largely echoed those from United Nations and African monitors.

Boko Haram

To win, a presidential contender must take at least 50% of the total vote while winning a quarter of the ballots in a minimum of 24 of the 36 states. If none of the 14 candidates secure such a victory, a run-off would be held within seven days after the results are announced.

The election took place against the backdrop of a six-year insurgency waged by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, and a plunge in the price of oil, Nigeria’s biggest export.

Fitch Ratings cut Nigeria’s credit-rating outlook to negative on Monday, citing the drop in oil prices and the tight election contest, while affirming the country’s BB- rating, three steps below investment grade.

The naira was little changed at 199 per dollar at 1:39 p.m. on Tuesday in Lagos. The nation’s $500 million of Eurobonds due July 2023 rose, with the yield falling 5 basis points to 6.44 percent. The Nigerian Stock Exchange All Share Index rose 1.5 percent.

‘Disturbing’ indications

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a joint statement that there were “disturbing” indications that the collation process, where votes are finally counted, may be subject to deliberate political interference.

A coalition of civil-society groups monitoring the election, known as the Situation Room, said in a statement on Monday it had received reports of politicians trying to use Nigeria’s national security agencies to interfere with the vote- counting process.

“Instability is a risk and one we take seriously,” Charles Robertson, the London-based chief economist at Renaissance Capital Ltd., said in an e-mailed response to questions on Tuesday. “I’d be a little surprised if there are no legal challenges to these results.”

Buhari’s party has painted Jonathan’s government as corrupt, incompetent and incapable of defeating Boko Haram, which has killed at least 1,000 people this year, according to Human Rights Watch. The PDP says Buhari is too old and human rights abuses were rife during his tenure.

“I can say without an iota of doubt that Nigerians across religion, across regional divisions, across class have actually understood the fact that the ruling class has messed up the country,” Habu Mohammed, professor of political science at Bayero University in Kano, said by phone. “This is a kind of a silent revolution in Nigerian politics, where people are looking at it from the context of issues-based politics.”

—With assistance from Emele Onu and Paul Wallace in Lagos, Mustapha Muhammad in Kano, Michael Olukayode in Maiduguri, Tony Tamuno and Dulue Mbachu in Port Harcourt and Chris Kay, Pauline Bax and Mike Cohen in Abuja.

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