President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria looked to be far enough ahead in the presidential election to avoid a run-off, according to early results on Sunday.

To succeed in the first round, Mr Jonathan must win both a simple majority plus at least 25 per cent of the vote in two-thirds of the country’s 36 states. Results from 30 states declared by Sunday afternoon showed he had won a quarter of the votes in 24 states.

People seem to have voted overwhelmingly on north-south regional lines, with strong support for Mr Jonathan in the south, the stronghold of his People’s Democratic party.

His closest rival, General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler and a native of Katsina state in the north, appears to have claimed large chunks of the vote-rich north-west as well as parts of the north-east.

Nuhu Ribadu, of the Action Congress of Nigeria, was polling a distant third. His camp attributed his poor showing to a botched deal between his ACN and the Congress for Progressive Change, which would have united the opposition behind Gen Buhari.

In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital and an ACN stronghold, early indications suggested voters had favoured Mr Jonathan.

Millions turned out to vote on Saturday in polls that international observers have tentatively described as free and fair. Previous elections have been marred by irregularities.

Turnout was significantly higher than parliamentary elections held the previous weekend. There were few reports of serious trouble, although two bombs went off in Maiduguri in northern Nigeria on Friday night.

Joe Clark, a former Canadian prime minister who is leading an observer team in Abuja, was cautiously optimistic of the electoral process. “It seems quite encouraging so far, although I am cautious of drawing any conclusions at this point.”

Gen Buhari complained of attempts to rig the vote in Katsina, saying that pre-marked ballots had been imported into the state.

If Mr Jonathan does not win a clean sweep, analysts say, the south-west and the central region, with its mixed Muslim-Christian populations, could provide the swing vote.

“If the south-west swings again, Jonathan would be in trouble,” said an analyst allied to Mr Ribadu. “A lot of people in the south-west may switch to Buhari.”

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