Nigeria: Buhari fears government may ‘trick’ him

The election and the closeness of the count has made newspaper headlines in Nigeria for days. Picture: AP

The election and the closeness of the count has made newspaper headlines in Nigeria for days. Picture: AP

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FORMER military dictator Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman said yesterday that Mr Buhari has won Nigeria’s presidential election – but fears his victory could be stolen through “tricks” by the government.

If Mr Buhari wins and Goodluck Jonathan steps down, it would mark the first time in Nigeria’s history that an opposition party has democratically taken control of the country from the ruling party.

Results from 35 states and the small Federal Capital Territory amounting to some 28 million votes showed Mr Buhari leading by two million votes. He is expected to carry the sole remaining state, north-east Borno – the birthplace of Boko Haram.

Electoral officials broke off the count late yesterday, saying it would take up to two hours for Borno results to arrive.

Mr Buhari crucially carried Lagos state, Nigeria’s commercial hub with the largest number of voters, according to results announced yesterday, though fewer than one-third of voters there participated.

“As for the election, we have won it!” Garba Shehu, Mr Buhari’s spokesman, said outside the party’s headquarters, which has been decked out with celebratory bunting for days.

But he added: “We are not out of the woods yet, we don’t know what tricks the government is going to play.”

Streets in Abuja, the capital where the presidential villa is located, were deserted as people waited tensely for an announcement, fearful of violence that ­followed the previous presidential election.

By contrast, in the north, were Mr Buhari is almost revered, spontaneous celebrations sprang up in Kano, the nation’s second city, and Kaduna.

Young men on motor scooters performed wheelies as hundreds of youths chanted: “Change! Change! Change!” and cars honked their horns in support. In Kano, Mr Buhari delivered a crushing defeat to Mr Jonathan, winning 1.9 million votes to Mr Jonathan’s 215,800.

Britain and the United States warned on Monday of the possibility of political meddling in the final count. Mr Jonathan’s campaign spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode said that was “balderdash” and demanded evidence.

Mr Garba said the opposition party’s agents at more than 150,000 polling stations across the country “tell us that we have won, but our victory is still threatened”. The winning candidate must take more than half of all votes, plus at least 25 per cent of votes in two-thirds of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory at Abuja.

The austere and strict retired general, who has said he is a convert to democracy, has promised that if he wins he will stamp out an insurgency in the north waged by Boko Haram. The home-grown Islamic extremist group has killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, has kidnapped many more, including young girls, and recently pledged fealty to Islamic State.

Critics and supporters agree that Mr Buhari is the one leader who did not treat the country’s treasury as a personal piggy bank. During his brief 1984-85 dictatorship he ruled with an iron fist, jailing people for littering, and ordering civil servants who arrived late to work to do squats.

But he also gagged the press and jailed journalists to cover up a deepening economic crisis as prices tumbled for the oil on which Nigeria’s economy depends. He eventually was overthrown by his own soldiers.

Nigeria’s 170 million people are divided almost equally between Christians mainly in the south and Muslims like Mr Buhari who dominate the north. Mr Buhari for the first time won states in the south-west and even took one-third of votes in a south-eastern state – though some have said this reflects more of an anti-Jonathan than a pro-Buhari sentiment.

The vote counting in Abuja was disrupted yesterday by a representative of Mr Jonathan’s party, who claimed the proceedings were partial to Mr Buhari.

“We have lost confidence in you. You are tribalistic! You are partial!” shouted former Cabinet minister Peter Godsday Orubebe at the chairman of the electoral commission counting the vote.

The opposition has also complained electoral officials are partisan. The count is being carried out in the presence of party representatives, national and international observers.

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