- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s president has urged opposition parties to accept his landslide re-election, trying to head off violence after rivals complained the balloting was rigged and demanded his resignation yesterday.Out of more than 42 million votes, President Olusegun Obasanjo won 62 percent in the weekend ballot, compared with 32 percent for his leading rival, former junta leader Muhammadu Buhari, the election commission announced Tuesday. More than 2.5 million votes were declared invalid.Some 20 opposition parties, including Mr. Buhari’s, issued a statement yesterday saying they “reject in totality” the election results. They described last weekend’s presidential and gubernatorial ballots and a previous legislative vote as a “total fraud and rape of democracy.”The opposition warned that unspecified “consequences will fall upon Obasanjo” unless he steps down by May 29, dissolves the country’s election commission and allows a new vote “in the shortest time possible.”The statement was read in the capital, Abuja, by Olagbade Agoro, chairman of the tiny National Action Congress, as he sat alongside senior officials of other parties, including Mr. Buhari’s.Earlier, Mr. Buhari’s party said it would legally challenge Mr. Obasanjo’s re-election on the grounds that the vote was rigged. The announcement suggested they were backing down on an early threat of mass action, a term in Nigeria that generally refers to violent protests.In a televised address, Mr. Obasanjo dismissed the charges, calling the vote “peaceful, free and transparent.”“Good politicians should be really good sportsmen, showing magnanimity and humility in victory and gallantry and good-naturedness in defeat,” he said.The vote is a test of stability and democracy in Africa’s most populous nation.Since an April 12 legislative vote, at least 35 persons have died in election-related attacks. In one attack, gunmen killed five persons traveling in a convoy carrying the president’s daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo. She was unhurt in the attack near the village of Igbogun, 35 miles from the commercial capital of Lagos, a presidential spokesman said.Nigeria, a country of 126 million people, has never seen a civilian government successfully hand over power to another. Though it is one of the world’s largest oil exporters, it is desperately poor and has a history of coups and unrest.Mr. Obasanjo is a former military ruler who traded in his uniform for traditional robes and ran for election in 1999. His victory ended 15 years of brutal military rule.Foreign and local election observers have condemned the vote as fraudulent in some states in the south and east of Nigeria, yet stressed it was too early to say whether results nationwide had been compromised.The State Department said widespread claims of electoral wrongdoing in Nigeria appeared to be credible. Spokesman Richard Boucher noted that Nigeria’s electoral laws provide for investigation and redress.Max Van den Berg, the European Union’s chief election observer, said his group’s monitors witnessed ballot box stuffing and other election fraud in six Nigerian states, including several in the restive southern swamps.

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