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April 19, 2011

Presidential Rival Challenging Nigerian Election Results

by Scott Stearns

The second-place finisher in Nigeria's presidential election is challenging results that he says were rigged by electoral commission computers. There has been violence in northern states following a vote that most international observers believe was largely free and fair.

Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari is calling on his supporters to remain calm as his party prepares to challenge the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan.

"We have commenced consultations at the highest levels to recover your stolen mandate. I would therefore urge you to continue to be patient," said Buhari.

Some Buhari supporters have battled riot police in northern states following the election results, reigniting ethnic and religious violence that has displaced thousands of people, caused an unknown number of deaths and seen both mosques and churches burned. Buhari condemned that violence.

"This act is worse than rigging of the elections," he said. "Information has reached me that, out of frustration, some of you have been destroying your voter cards. This is a very grievous mistake which is not going to solve any of your problems."

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Instead, Buhari is calling on his supporters to remain politically active as his Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party challenges what he says was electronic vote rigging.

"They uncovered in Katsina and Kano that the computer was programmed to cheat us, the CPC, by 40 and 26 percentage respectively," said Buhari.

Katsina and Kano are northern states that Buhari won. He says fraud there was meant to reduce his overall vote total. In southern states that were won by Jonathan, Buhari says fraud was meant to inflate totals for the ruling PDP party.

"In the South-South, six states, and the South-East, five states, in 11 states the turn out physically, you can cross-check from INEC officials who were there, was between 25 and 40 percent," he said. "Yet the results showed that 99 percent, 98 percent, 97 percent of the voters' cards had voted for PDP. And we are collating all this information and confronting INEC with it. And then we will go to court. The party will go to court on this issue."

Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not responded specifically to any of the Buhari campaign's complaints, but an INEC spokesman said candidates who dispute the results are free to challenge them in court.

President Jonathan says the vote was one of the nation's best. He has congratulated his opponents and says the nation expects their continued leadership.

"I have no enemies to fight. Indeed, I reassure Nigerians that we will continue to run a government that is committed to fairness, equity, and justice for all," said Jonathan.

Buhari says the presidential vote was, in his words, "an absolute disaster"  mistakenly validated by election observers who were based largely in the north.

"We are going to prove that it was even the worst because of the sophisticated rigging by using computers," he said. "The way people were disenfranchised especially in South-South, South-East, and part of the South-West."

Electoral commission results show Jonathan avoiding a second-round run-off with Buhari because the president won at least one-quarter of the vote in at least 24 states.

That provision is meant to ensure that a Nigerian president has some degree of national support and is not simply a regional candidate. But the vote broke down along regional lines anyway with President Jonathan winning the south and Buhari winning the north.