Violent protests broke out across Nigeria’s Muslim northern region on Monday following an overwhelming election victory by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.

The national election commission on Monday announced that Jonathan was the winner, saying he had an unassailable lead and had fulfilled the mandatory requirement of 25 percent of the vote in at least two-thirds of the country’s 36 states.

Jonathan, leader of the People’s Democratic party, garnered more than 20 million votes, having swept all but one of the 17 southern states, with an impressive showing in several states in the predominantly Muslim north of the country.

His nearest rival, retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, trailed by about 8 million votes.

International observers on Monday endorsed the elections, describing them as largely free, fair and transparent, with notable discrepancies in individual states.

“The organization of Nigeria’s elections can be considered generally acceptable. The presidential elections meet the criteria of being free and transparent,” declared the regional Ecowas observer team in a preliminary report.

Similar assessments were made by the National Democratic Institute observer mission, which considered the elections to “represent a step forward from seriously flawed elections of the past,” and “holding the promise of setting a new standard for integrity in Nigeria’s electoral process.”

These positive assessments have been swept aside by a wave of violence in the north that broke out on Sunday night as it became clear that Jonathan and his PDP had taken a decisive lead.

Protests, church burnings and evictions of non-indigenous Christian populations swept across several northern states, notably Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa and Kano.

The north is plagued by illiteracy and poverty. Fears of a loss of power following Goodluck’s victory also belied a much deeper sense that the north had been betrayed when the PDP establishment reneged on a leadership rotation system, known as zoning, during party primaries early this year.

Security forces reportedly fired live bullets at angry crowds. A 24-hour curfew has been imposed in Kaduna and Kano. In Gombe, houses of electoral officials, politicians and traditional and religious leaders were burned.

“The violence was sparked off by the perception of rigging,” said Sani Zoro, a former journalist and a losing candidate in the parliamentary elections conducted on April 9.

Tensions rose early on Saturday, when speculation spread that the PDP had imported stuffed ballot boxes. In Gumel, Jigawa state, men were caught stuffing ballots in a government guest house on Saturday night. Three cars were set ablaze. On Monday morning in Kano, houses belonging to non-Hausa/Fulani residents were reportedly attacked as the violence appeared to spread to areas in which Buhari had led by an overwhelming margin.

The homes of traditional Muslim leaders perceived to have been complicit in PDP’s alleged rigging campaign were also targeted. “The palace of the emir of Kano and the Ladima, Gijjani Hashim were torched,” said Zoro, who lives in Kano.

Hashim is said to have financed Vice President Namadi Sambo’s campaign to shore up Jonathan’s support in Kaduna state last week. The vice president’s house in Zaria has also reportedly been burned.

“It’s as if a class war has broken out,” said Zoro.

Financial Times