Violence Mars Nigerian Vote Count

April 18, 2011

By WILL CONNORS, The Wall Street Journal

ABUJA, Nigeria—As incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan closed in on an election victory Monday, groups of young men rioted in several northern Nigerian cities, burning tires, houses and a church in an apparent protest of the voting results.

The Nigerian security forces used batons and fired in the air to suppress the riots, according to witnesses. Although there were no immediate reports of casualties or injuries, the clashes in the northern cities of Kaduna, Kano and Zaria threaten to undermine what was largely a peaceful presidential election on Saturday.

“The situation has really degenerated,” said Kaduna-based Nafiu Baba-Ahmed, the head of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria. “There is a complete breakdown of law and order in some parts.”

On Monday, the governor of Kaduna state declared an immediate 24-hour curfew “in order to protect the lives and properties of all citizens of our dear state,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. Kaduna is the home state of current Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo.

Final results were expected later Monday, but Mr. Jonathan appears to have built an unassailable lead. Mr. Jonathan has won about 60% of the votes counted so far. His closest rival, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, has collected about 28% of the tallied votes so far. Local and international observers have deemed the vote the most credible Nigerian election in decades.

Still, the clashes offer a worrying sign of Nigeria’s volatile political environment that some fear could undermine economic growth and scare off investors. In the past two months, nearly 100 people have been killed and millions of dollars of property damaged in campaign-related violence, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch and Nigerian political parties. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people have been killed in clashes between Christians and Muslims in central and northern Nigeria over the past two years, according to rights groups.

The clashes appear to be a reaction to the impending loss of Mr. Buhari, who has widespread popular support in his native, mostly Muslim northern Nigeria. Mr. Jonathan is from the southern part of the country and is a Christian.


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