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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 12:58 GMT

World: Africa

Obasanjo aims for national unity

Olusegun Obasanjo, left, congratulates running mate Abubakar Atiku

President-elect General Olusegun Obasanjo has said he will work to restore faith in democracy as he leads the country's first civilian government for 15 years.

Nigeria elections
He told the American network CNN that he will form a government of national unity that his opponent, Chief Olu Falae, would be welcome to join.

Olu Falae tells BBC Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle of vote fraud
But his rival, Olu Falae, has rejected the result of the vote, accusing Mr Obasanjo's supporters of "monumental" vote-rigging.

Former United States President Jimmy Carter, who is in Nigeria as an election observer, also questioned the outcome of the poll.

Qualified congratulations

International leaders cautiously welcomed General Obasanjo's victory.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a written statement that it appeared that he had received a majority of the votes.

John Simpson in Lagos: Ballot rigging may have been intended to make up for the low turnout
He hoped the elections would be a "major positive step in the transition to democracy."

US State Department spokesman James Foley said: "We believe the conduct of this election broadly reflected the will of the Nigerian people."

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called for a full investigation of electoral irregularities, but noted that international observers considered General Obasano would have won anway.

South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo described the election as a victory for the people of Nigeria.

Military man joins civilian ranks

[ image:  ]
Mr Obasanjo, who is a former military ruler, received nearly twice as many votes as Mr Falae.

He promised that the cause of democracy would be advanced under his presidency.

Nigeria's independent National Electoral Commission said Mr Obasanjo had received 18.7 million votes, against Mr Falae's 11.1 million.

Mr Falae issued a statement that alleged a "seemingly institutionalised pattern of election malpractices" in the presidential poll.

The former finance minister and his electoral partner, Umaru Shinkafi, issued the statement just before the results were announced, in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the poll from being accepted.

Mr Falae, who was standing jointly for the Alliance for Democracy and the All Peoples Party, said it was too early to say whether he would challenge the results in court.

Carter questions result

Mark Doyle: "The people of Nigeria will be watching his every move"
Mr Carter told the electoral commission that it was impossible to make an accurate judgement about the outcome of the election.

He pointed to a "wide disparity between the number of voters observed at the polling stations, and the final result that has been reported from several states".

[ image:  ]
But most observers were of the view that although there had been malpractices, the size of Mr Obasanjo's lead meant that his victory was not in question.

There was particular concern over ballot-rigging by both sides in the economically deprived Niger Delta region.

Why a soldier?

BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle says one of the key questions about the election is why the big political power-brokers of Nigeria decided to put up a retired military man as their candidate.

[ image:  ]
Some say Mr Obasanjo is there to protect the military from corruption investigations, while others say he is the man who may be able to stop the soldiers seizing power again in the future.

Both presidential candidates voted in their home towns on Saturday, expressing hope that the election would bury military rule.

Falae support in south-west

General Obasanjo swept to victory in northern, central and eastern Nigeria. Chief Falae - as expected - did well in the south-west.

Olusegun Obasanjo: "The people of Nigeria have made their choice"
The general's Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) widened its lead by several percentage points compared to recent local, state and parliamentary elections in which it secured a majority of the vote.

General Obasanjo's supporters have been celebrating and are already looking forward to government. Nigeria's current military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has pledged to step down on 29 May, to make way for civilian rule.

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