Only a few minor incidents and irregularities mar the election in Nigeria, which was won by Goodluck Jonathan, who defeated Muhammadu Buhari, a one-time military ruler of the country.
Goodluck Jonathan wins peaceful election in Nigeria
KANO, NIGERIA // In Nigeria's life as an independent nation, peaceful and legitimate elections have been a rarity. That is why last weekend's presidential balloting represents a breakthrough - albeit an easily reversible one - for Africa's most populous nation.
Only a handful of minor incidents and irregularities marred the balloting on Saturday, which was won by Goodluck Jonathan, who defeated Muhammadu Buhari, a one-time military ruler of Nigeria.
The former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae, who led the Commonwealth Observer Group, described the vote as a sea change, not only for Nigeria but for the rest of the continent.
"In recent decades, Nigeria had come to be known for flawed elections. People outside and Nigerians themselves had come to believe that elections could not reflect the will of the people. But today people showed that they can change that," Mr Mogae told Associated Press.
"We seem to be witnessing a giant of Africa reforming itself and putting its house in order."
Three weeks ago, the prospects of Nigeria breaking precedent and holding a free and fair election appeared slight, as usual.
Parliamentary voting was postponed after ballot papers went missing at a large number of polling stations. Observers also doubted the ability of the country's electoral commission, the traditional architect of rigged elections in Nigeria, to reform.
Nevertheless, under the leadership of Attahiru Jega, an academic and Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, the commission managed to organise what international and local observers have judged a largely clean election for the nation's 72 million registered voters.
A decent election, of course, will not necessarily solve Nigeria's problems.
Bad governance and corruption are rampant, and the divide between north and south, which the election results from country's 36 states served to underscore, remains a key source of instability.
That fissure erupted yesterday as tentative voting results made it increasingly plain that Mr Jonathan, from the predominantly Christian south, was holding an insurmountable lead in the vote-count over Mr Buhari, who hails from the mainly Muslim north.
In Kaduna, angry young men burnt tyres in the streets and threw stones at police and soldiers trying to restore order, unnamed witnesses told the AP. "Right now, I'm holed up in my room. There's gunshots everywhere," said Shehu Sani, a civil-rights leader.
"They are firing and killing people on the street."
In Kano, the north's largest city, smoke could be seen overhead as the head of the local Islamic police force said there were reports of fighting.
Angry young men gathered in the streets wielding wooden planks and burnt tyres and sticks, creating informal roadblocks throughout town. At the main hospital in Kano, wounded young men were brought in throughout the morning, though hospital officials did not release official casualty figures. The police commissioner said a curfew was being enforced "throughout the state" and that the situation was "calm" by mid-afternoon, though a prominent civil society activist and elections observer was still holed up in his house with his family while an angry mob waited outside later in the day.
Disappointment and anger had been building for days in the region. Halima Ben Umar, a women's rights activist in the historic Muslim city of Kano in the north, said on Sunday she was too depressed to listen to the progress of the vote count on the television or the radio.
"This turn is supposed to be the north," said Ms Umar, referring to a longstanding agreement among powerbrokers in the ruling People's Democratic Party under which the presidency rotates between a northern and southern politician every eight years.
After Olesugun Obasanjo's eight-year rule, the north assumed power when Umaru Yar'Ardua, a northern Muslim, was elected 2007 polls that were seen widely as fraudulent. Yar'Ardua died in office last year and was succeeded by Mr Jonathan, his vice president, which shifted power back to the south.
Northern resentment over this chain of events deepened when the ruling party refused to back a northern candidate for this year's elections. Ms Umar said she blames the political elite from her own region as much as anyone for this failure.
"Unfortunately we don't have leadership in the north," she said. "They're just thinking of 'myself, my wife, my children.' A typical Nigerian is not their priority, not their concern."
The vast majority of northern Nigerians under 30 are deeply impoverished, unemployed, and increasingly discontented with the country's current leadership.
Compounding their frustration is the fact that Nigeria's vast oil wealth is located in the south, where their voices tend only to be heard when a northerner occupies the presidency.
That frustration was on display on Saturday evening, as hundreds of young men gathered at a polling station in Kaduna to watch as ballots were counted.
"Where is the money?" demanded one man. "Nigeria is a rich country, but we have so many unemployed youths."
Thus, while Mr Jonathan stands poised to credibly win a new mandate in office, the task he faces is daunting, noted Chidi Odinkalu of the non-governmental Open Society Justice Initiative.
"There's good news in this Nigerian presidential election: We're counting actual votes and people are interested in the count," Mr Odinkalu said.
"And quite bad news: the country is badly divided, north versus south."