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US, UK warn of ‘political meddling’ in Nigeria vote count

Florian Plaucher, AFP | Nigerian policeman stands guard in Port Harcourt on March 29, 2015 as opposition supporters call for the cancellation of the presidential election in the Rivers State

The United States and Britain voiced fears over possible political interference in Nigeria's presidential poll on Monday, just as preliminary results showed the opposition challenger pulling ahead in the hotly contested election.

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With votes from three-quarters of Nigeria's states counted, opposition challenger Muhammadu Buhari had 12.9 million votes to President Goodluck Jonathan's 10.2 million, official results collated by Reuters showed late on Monday.

US and UK officials earlier voiced concern over the election process, saying that they believed there was no interference on a national level but remained concerned about possible interference at the state level.

“So far, we have seen no evidence of systemic manipulation of the process,” US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a joint statement.

“But there are disturbing indications that the collation process - where the votes are finally counted - may be subject to deliberate political interference,” they added.

Nigeria's electoral commission, which began counting the votes on Monday afternoon, rejected the warning, saying there was "no evidence" of party meddling in the count.

"There is no interference at all. We are about to start the collation process. We have no evidence of political interference," Independent National Electoral Commission spokesman Kayode Idowu said ahead of the vote count.

Fifty-seven-year-old Jonathan, who is seeking his second four-year presidential term, is a Christian from a minority tribe in the lush oil-producing south while 72-year-old Buhari is a Muslim from the semi-arid north that is home to farmers, cattle herders and centuries-old caliphates.

The voting was relatively smooth in the nation of 170 million people despite technical glitches, deadly attacks by Islamist militants and allegations of political violence and threats in some areas.

Widespread rigging has occurred in many previous Nigerian elections, along with post-election violence. New biometric cards aimed at stemming fraud were brought in but some newly imported card readers were not functioning properly. Voting was extended to Sunday in some 300 out of 150,000 polling stations where that problem occurred, the electoral commission said.

The winner could be announced on Tuesday, electoral officials said.

Nerves on edge

The official collation of votes from 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja was to be carried out in the presence of party representatives, national and international election observers and media. There was a high turnout among the nearly 60 million people who had cards to vote in the election. The vote counting began two hours late with no explanation for the delay.

Nervousness that the announcement of the results could trigger violence was palpable. One radio station played a song written by entertainment star 2Face Idibia in Nigeria’s colloquial English: “Vote not fight! Election no be war!”

After Buhari lost to Jonathan in 2011, more than 1,000 people died and some 65,000 were forced from their homes in northern riots, according to the National Human Rights Commission.

Boko Haram ‘unable’ to disrupt voting

On Monday morning, police in Port Harcourt, a centre of oil production in Nigeria’s south, fired tear gas to disperse thousands of women supporters of the opposition coalition who demanded the cancellation of the election in Rivers state.

The opposition is demanding new elections in the southern states of Rivers and Akwa Ibom, alleging irregularities that include missing and false results sheets and electoral officials being replaced by government officials loyal to Jonathan. The national electoral commission said it is investigating numerous complaints.

On Monday night, the government imposed an overnight curfew in Rivers “to prevent the breakdown of law and order because of the tense political situation” caused by the vote.

Just days before the general election, Nigeria’s military, backed by armies from neighbouring countries, announced major victories over home-grown Boko Haram militants after months of defeats. Prior to the vote the Islamist militants had vowed to disrupt the poll.

But Mohammad Ibn Chambas, the UN envoy for West Africa, told the Security Council on Monday that while Boko Haram fighters did stage attacks in northeastern Nigeria on election day "Boko Haram was unable to disrupt the electoral process".

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

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