US, UK fear possible interference in Nigeria vote count
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his British counterpart Philip Hammond Monday voiced fears over possible political interference in Nigeria's vote count, as the country awaited the results of weekend elections.
"We have seen no evidence of systemic manipulation of the process. But there are disturbing indications that the collation process -- where the votes are finally counted -- may be subject to deliberate political interference," the two diplomats said in a joint statement.
Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission flatly rejected that.
"There is absolutely no basis for that at all," commission spokesman Kayode Idowu told AFP.
"There is no interference at all. We are about to start the collation process. We have no evidence of political interference," he added.
Britain and the United States meanwhile welcomed "the largely peaceful vote" after it was pushed into a second day Sunday due to failures in new technology designed to read biometric identity cards. The cards were introduced to combat electoral fraud.
But Kerry and Hammond warned that any attempt at fraud "would contravene the letter and spirit of the Abuja accord, to which both major parties committed themselves."
They added that their governments "would be very concerned by any attempts to undermine the independence" of the electoral commission.
- Concerns at regional level -
Speaking to AFP in Nigeria's capital Abuja, the top US diplomat for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, clarified that there were no reports of pressure being applied to INEC chairman Attahiru Jega, but rather concerns in a number of states.
There is "absolutely no indication that it is at headquarters. It is at the regional level," said the US assistant secretary of state for Africa.
"We all, not just the US and UK, but others in the international community, have received a lot of calls and information regarding fears that there was some interference at the collation centres.
"So we wanted to make sure that there was a clear understanding that this was unacceptable," she added.
Thomas-Greenfield did not specify which states had raised concern and made clear that the reporting of malpractice so far did not compromise the overall integrity of the vote.
Nigeria's presidential election pitting President Goodluck Jonathan against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari is the closest in Nigeria's history, and first to present a credible opposition challenge.
The first nine results were announced in Abuja. Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) won five states while Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took three plus the Federal Capital Territory, which includes Abuja.
But the PDP was marginally ahead on the overall number of votes won so far. More results were set to be announced from 1900 GMT.
The vote is being closely watched amid fears of a repeat of the post-electoral violence of the last presidential poll four years ago.
Some 1,000 people were killed after Jonathan beat Buhari to the presidency in 2011, when the opposition alleged widespread rigging.
International election observers have given broadly positive reactions to the conduct of the weekend's vote, despite late delivery of election materials and the technical glitches.
But Nigeria's Transition Monitoring Group, which had observers across the country, said: "These issues did not systematically disadvantage any candidate or party."
Santiago Fisas, head of the European Union election observer mission, also told reporters "there is not evidence of a systematic subversion of the voting process so far."
But he stressed that "collation is the most critical problem... We are watching this."
© 2015 AFP