The Nigerian presidential polling, initially scheduled for Saturday, March 28, was extended in some areas to Sunday, March 29, because of technical glitches. Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of the Independent National Elections Commission (INEC), is saying that the complete results will be announced on Tuesday, March 31.
INEC did release partial results on March 30, and they have been broadcast by Nigerian media outlets. Predictably, Buhari appears to be doing well in the west and the north, Jonathan in the south and in Nigeria’s oil patch. Based on incomplete returns, the two candidates are dividing the middle belt, where Nigeria’s Christian and Muslim populations meet and where religious and ethnic tensions are high. With respect to the votes counted thus far, Bloomberg reports INEC as saying that Jonathan is leading with 47.3 percent of the vote to 46.9 percent for Buhari.
By and large, elections in Nigeria are no longer rigged at the ballot box but rather at the collation centers where local ballot counts are brought together. In an extraordinary March 30, joint statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, said “…there are disturbing indications that the collation process—where the votes are finally counted—may be subject to deliberate political interference.” Their statement also said that their two governments would be “very concerned” if there were efforts to “undermine the independence” of INEC and chairman Jega. The Situation Room, a coalition of Nigerian civil society groups, is saying that it is receiving reports that the security services, under the control of Jonathan, are interfering with the vote-counting.
Already there are signs that the results of the election, as announced, will not be accepted by at least some and perhaps many Nigerians. Femi Fani-Kayode, close to Jonathan, is claiming that the president is winning by a margin of more than two million votes, and that Buhari’s supporters and the media are spreading false reports of holding the lead. Fani-Kayode is quoted in the Nigerian media as saying that Jonathan’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will reject “any attempt to manipulate figures or to rig us out from any quarter.” On the other hand, in the north, traditionally a stronghold of Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC), thousands demonstrated against a 24-hour curfew in the city of Bauchi that they said was imposed to facilitate rigging the vote on Jonathan’s behalf. However, the authorities justify the curfew as prudent because of ongoing Boko Haram attacks. In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, a center of Jonathan support, police used tear gas against women supporting Buhari to stop their march on the local electoral office. INEC has announced that Jonathan won that state by a margin of 1.48 million to 62,238 for Buhari. APC campaign spokesmen are rejecting the result.
The next few days will be tense in Nigeria. Already there have been election-related deaths, though exactly how many is not clear. A Buhari victory has been widely anticipated, not just in the predominately Muslim north. Many will likely see an INEC announcement of a Jonathan victory as less than credible. In the past, Buhari has said that he will not return to the courts to adjudicate election disputes because he believes he was unjustly treated in the past. Some of his supporters have said that a less than credible Jonathan victory will result in the APC establishing a “parallel government,” which they have not defined. On the other hand, some of Jonathan’s supporters in the oil patch have said that if the incumbent is denied re-election they will renew attacks on the oil infrastructure.
The high stakes of these elections in Nigeria are illustrated by the extraordinary joint statement issued by Secretary Kerry and Foreign Secretary Hammond during the ballot-counting. However, the leverage of the United States and the United Kingdom over electoral matters in Nigeria is limited. It is Nigerians themselves, driven by specifically Nigerian factors that will determine how the country gets through the post-election period.