KANO, Nigeria (Reuters) - Rioting erupted across Nigeria’s largely Muslim north on Monday and the Red Cross spoke of many dead as youths torched churches and homes in anger at President Goodluck Jonathan’s election victory.
The vote count showed Jonathan, from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta, had beaten Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler from the north, in the first round.
Observers have called the poll the fairest in decades in Africa’s most populous nation but Buhari’s supporters accuse the ruling party of rigging and his Congress for Progressive Change Party rejected results announced so far.
Those results show how polarised the country is, with Buhari sweeping the north and Jonathan winning the largely Christian south. Jonathan had nearly 23 million votes to just over 12 million for Buhari according to final figures.
The Nigerian Red Cross said churches, mosques and homes had been burned in rioting across the north and many people had been killed, but it was impossible to give a toll for now.
“In Kaduna we have seen dead bodies lying by the road,” Red Cross official Umar Mairiga told Reuters. “Two thousand people have been displaced at one military camp alone.”
Authorities in the northern state of Kaduna imposed a 24-hour curfew after protesters set fire to the residence of Vice President Namadi Sambo in the town of Zaria and forced their way into the central prison, releasing inmates.
The body of a small boy shot in the chest by a stray bullet was brought to a police station, a witness said.
“They have destroyed our cars and our houses. I had to run for my life and I am now in my neighbour’s house,” said Dora Ogbebor, a resident of Zaria whose origins are in the south.
Plumes of smoke rose into the air in parts of the state capital as protesters set fire to barricades of tyres. Security forces fired in the air and used teargas to disperse groups of youths shouting “We want Buhari, we want Buhari”.
Police said the violence was political rather than ethnic or religious. Twelve years after the end of military rule, the army said it stood fully behind the government.
Jonathan appealed to all politicians to end violence.
“No one’s political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian,” he said in a statement.
Buhari was yet to make any public statement.
The former general’s spokesman said he believed the vote count had been manipulated against him.
“We cannot accept these results as announced until cross-checks have been carried out by the electoral commission,” Yinka Odumakin told Reuters.
Nigeria has a history of rigged and violent elections but Saturday’s vote was deemed by many Nigerians, and foreign observers, to have been a vast improvement on the past.
“Election day showed a generally peaceful and orderly process,” said chief European Union election observer Alojz Peterle. EU observers said 2007 elections were not credible.
The outright win for Jonathan could ease worries over potential disruptions to crude exports from Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry -- far away from the disturbances in the north.
It could also lift local financial markets which had been unnerved by the prospect of a potential run-off and the All-Share Index closed up 2.3 percent to its highest in nearly a month.
“We will see a lot of investors come back to Nigeria,” said Alan Cameron, London-based economist of stockbroker CSL.
The troubles in the north, on the fringes of the Sahara desert, are far from the oil-producing regions and heaving industrial centres of the south.
Buhari, who also lost elections in 2003 and 2007, has repeatedly said Nigerians would not accept another rigged vote. He told Reuters on Saturday he would not go to court to challenge the outcome but that his party may chose to do so.