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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 13:32 GMT
Nigerian candidate 'won fairly'
Ballot boxes are numbered for the vote
Nigeria's elections could increase regional divisions
Nigeria's former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari has dismissed accusations that he benefited from a rigged selection process in his party's primary elections.

Mr Buhari will be the presidential candidate of the main opposition All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) in April's election against President Olusegun Obasanjo.

I did not beg anybody, I did not ask anybody in any form to step down for me

General Buhari
Both men are former military rulers. Mr Obasanjo is a Christian from the south-west, General Buhari represents the Muslim north.

The presidential election will be the first time that a civilian administration has organised elections for 19 years.

Some observers fear that the elections will divide Nigeria along regional lines.

Thirty parties will contest the poll but the ANPP and Mr Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party (PDP) are seen as the strongest groupings.

'Integrity'

General Buhari denied he had manipulated the system to get other candidates to step down for him.

"I did not beg anybody, I did not ask anybody in any form to step down for me," he told the BBC Network Africa programme.

"I did not make any promises - I try not to do the type of things that has tinted the integrity of politicans in under-developed countries."

General Buhari said that he was prepared to work with any of the candidates who had walked out.

MUHAMMADU BUHARI
Muhammadu Buhari
Military ruler of Nigeria from 1984 to 1985
Deposed in a coup
Poor human rights record
Seen as honest
Muslim from northern Nigeria
Running mate is Chuba Okadigbo, from south-east
"If the party considers him strategic to its stability and he is strongly recommended, I would not turn against him," he said.

General Buhari was one of 12 candidates standing at the ANPP convention in the capital, Abuja.

However, he became the only candidate after his rivals either withdrew or failed to turn up. He gained 4,328 ballots, with just 30 voting against him.

Some fear that he may promote the interests of Muslims over Christians but he immediately moved to counter these fears.

"If given the mandate, I will serve faithfully without discrimination on account of sex, religion or ethnicity," he said in his acceptance speech.

But former Information Minister John Nwodo complained that the nomination process was unfair.

"The process of this election has been characterised by ethnicity," he said.

Ethnic politics

President Obasanjo was selected on Monday as the PDP candidate.

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO
President Olusegun Obasanjo
1937: Born in south-west; a Christian and a Yoruba
1976-79: Military ruler
1995-98: Jailed by military regime
1999: Elected president

He has lost the support of the northern power brokers who backed his successful 1999 campaign.

And his opposition to the introduction of Sharia punishments has alienated many ordinary northern Muslims.

They may rally behind a strong northern candidate, such as Mr Buhari.

Communities in the south-east feel that it is their turn to provide Nigeria's leader.

Alex Ekwueme from the south-east claimed that the PDP primaries were rigged after Mr Obasanjo won more than 70% of the votes.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  Muhammadu Buhari on BBC Network Africa
"The anger has no credibility"

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06 Jan 03 | Africa
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