FILE - Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan.
FILE - Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan.

Nigeria's ruling party predicted victory for incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in presidential elections later this month, despite reports of growing support for his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari.

Olisa Metuh, a spokesman for Jonathan's People's Democratic Party, forecast Jonathan would receive 68 percent of the votes cast March 28.

“Our campaign has been on issues and has been driven and led by the president himself, who has directed the campaign and who has engaged in meeting with Nigerians personally," he told VOA. "He has met with the youth, the traditional rulers, [and] the market leaders the business community and he is personally leading the campaign."

The contest between Jonathan, a Christian from the southern Niger Delta,  and Buhari is turning into the tightest race since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.  Buhari is a Muslim from the north and former military officer who led the country during a period of military rule in the 1980s.

The election, which was postponed from last month, has been dominated by issues like endemic corruption, a slowing economy and the inability of the Nigerian security forces to quell the more-than-5-year insurgency by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram in the north.

The campaign last week was roiled when the government had to retract its claim that Jonathan and the King of Morocco had spoken on the phone, in what was designed to be an appeal by Jonathan to Muslim voters.

“For us in the People’s Democratic Party, we do not believe there is need for any rancor, any disagreement, because actually the northerners are very receptive to this president," Metuh said. "We do not think that we need any non-Nigerian to campaign for the president in any part of the country."

“The president is very well accepted by all Nigerians because of the developments that he has done. He has touched all the sectors of the economy across all the zones and all the tribes and all cadres of people,” he added.

Northern vote

Buhari and his All Progressives Congress enjoys significant support in Nigeria's northern states. Critics say Jonathan's People's Democratic Party tried used the Moroccan king in their campaign advertisements to cut into Buhari’s support, something Metuh denied.

He also denied reports that the PDP has been buying votes in an effort to rig the election.

“It’s an insult to the Nigerian people, and we will not dignify it with a response because we believe that what is important to the average Nigerian is the issue of the provision of infrastructure," he said. "They want a responsible government that will cater for all their needs and the needs of their family."

“Talking about buying of votes, I think it is fixed in the imagination of losers,” he added. “People, who have accepted that they will lose this presidential election, are coming up with all manners of accusation.”

Buhari lost to Jonathan in the 2011 vote, and opposition protests over alleged voter fraud morphed into a spree of sectarian and ethnic rioting in many northern states.

Clottey interview with Olisa Metuh, Spokesman for Ngeria's Ruling PDP 1864371
Clottey interview with Olisa Metuh, Spokesman for Ngeria's Ruling PDP 1864371 audio player.