Nigeria’s president takes huge lead in vote to remain leader

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan took a nearly insurmountable lead Sunday in the election to lead the oil-rich nation, though fragmented returns suggested the Christian incumbent faced strong opposition from the country’s Muslim north.

ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan took a nearly insurmountable lead Sunday in the election to lead the oil-rich nation, though fragmented returns suggested the Christian incumbent faced strong opposition from the country’s Muslim north.

Meanwhile, authorities in the vice-president’s northern Nigerian hometown said that eight people had been wounded in a bomb blast at a hotel in a poor neighbourhood hours after voters cast their ballots in the otherwise peaceful election.

Certified results from the Independent National Electoral Commission released from Saturday’s election showed Jonathan had 19.4 million votes out of a total of 31.1 million already counted. His nearest opponent, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, held 8.7 million votes.

Results from eight of Nigeria’s 36 states have yet to be formally announced in Abuja, the country’s capital. While those states have enough votes to seize the lead from Jonathan, it appears unlikely Buhari will be able to salvage a victory.

Jonathan also had won enough votes in those states counted by Sunday night to avoid triggering a runoff.

Attahiru Jega, chairman of the national electoral body, said his agency would begin announcing results again at 9 a.m. Monday (0800 GMT). Every television network and most radio stations in Africa’s most populous nation aired the vote results live to a country that has remained in suspense since the mostly peaceful vote held Saturday in a land used to violence and thuggery at the polls.

Jonathan, who became president after his predecessor died in office last year, has long been considered the front-runner as his ruling People’s Democratic Party has dominated politics in the West African giant since it became a democracy 12 years ago. However, the country’s Muslim north remains hesitant about Jonathan as the Christian from the south who took over after the death of the country’s elected Muslim leader.

Many of the north’s elite wanted the ruling party to honour an unwritten power-sharing agreement calling for a Muslim candidate to run in this election, yet Jonathan prevailed in the party’s primary.

Buhari, the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, won the support of many in the north as a Muslim leader willing to crack down on the corruption prevalent in the nation. Initial results by federal officials suggested he carried several northern states not yet certified.

Nigeria has a long history of violent and rigged polls, and legislative elections earlier this month left a hotel ablaze, a politician dead and a polling station and a vote-counting centre bombed in the nation’s northeast. However, observers largely said Saturday’s poll appeared to be fair, with fewer cases of ballot box thefts.

“These elections were not without problems — in particular isolated incidents of intimidation, violence, and illegal voting — but these did not undermine the overall credibility of the process,” read a statement issued Sunday by Project 2011 Swift Count, a coalition of trusted local monitoring groups.

The tension between Christians and Muslim has erupted into violence that has killed thousands since Nigeria became a democracy.

In Kaduna, one city that has been at the centre of that violence, police said Sunday that officers had two suspects in custody after the bombing Saturday night at the Happy Hotel. Kaduna state police spokesman Aminu Lawal told The Associated Press that authorities had no motive for the attack, though the neighbourhood suffered some unrest during voting Saturday.

Inside the hotel, police officers looked for evidence Sunday amid the crumbled cement walls, shattered glass and bloodstained ground. The explosion happened just next to a small dingy bar inside the hotel complex, which bore a sign that read: “This brothel supports no condom, no sex policy.”

Outside, a giant Jonathan campaign banner hung over the hotel in a neighbourhood home to both poor Christians and Muslims. Blue graffiti bearing the name of Buhari’s party could be seen on walls, while other ruling party banners appeared to have been cut with knives.

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