© Seyllou Diallo/AFP/Getty ImagesPeople holding wooden and metal sticks demonstrate in Nigeria's northern city of Kano where running battles broke out between protesters and soldiers as President Goodluck Jonathan headed for an election win.
Nigeria's incumbent leader Goodluck Jonathan won the presidential election as violent protests against the result killed at least six, underscoring the political frailty in Africa's biggest oil producer.

Jonathan, 53, a Christian from the oil-rich Niger River delta region, won 22.5 million, or 57 percent, of the votes cast, compared with 12.2 million, or 31 percent, for former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, the electoral commission said.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with 150 million residents, is roughly split between a mostly Muslim north and a largely Christian south, a divide reflected in voting for the April 16 election. Jonathan will need to convince northerners that he is a credible ruler for all Nigerians while relying on a divided legislature to pass laws to regulate oil exploration and promote investment in the industry.

"The polarized north-south results of the election underline a looming political and cultural divide in the country, which may lead to further tension," Sebastian Boe, a political analyst at IHS Inc. (IHS) in London, said in a e-mailed note.

Opposition supporters in several northern cities burned buildings and attacked members of the ruling People's Democratic Party after results yesterday showed that Jonathan would win the election. A police station and a church in the northern town of Kaduna were burned, and riots spread from Gombe to towns including Bauchi, Zaria, Azare and Potiskum, a police spokesman for the region, Suleiman Lawal, said yesterday.

Stocks Rise

Concerns over sectarian and election-related violence before the polls sparked an increase in domestic demand for foreign currency, weakening the naira to an 18-month low of 157.04 against the dollar on March 17. The currency was at 154.80 late yesterday and the benchmark Nigerian Stock Exchange All Share Index rose 1.1 percent, gaining for the fifth straight day, as election returns pointed to a victory for Jonathan.

The election was "credible," observers from the Commonwealth group of nations said in a statement. The last elections, in 2007, were described by international and local monitors as flawed by intimidation of voters and ballot fraud.

"The transparent presidential election will boost Nigeria's institutional and democratic credentials," said Samir Gadio, sub-Saharan analyst at Standard Bank Group Ltd. in London. "Jonathan's decisive win will ease investor concerns."

© Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty ImagesNigerian President Goodluck Jonathan casts his vote into a ballot box in Otuoke, his country home ward at Ogbia district in Bayelsa State, on April 16.
Income Disparities

Since Nigeria's return to civilian government in 1999 after 15 years of military rule, income disparities have widened, fueling ethnic and religious violence. About 54 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day, about 22 million citizens are illiterate, and maternal mortality is 800 per 100,000 live births, a rate among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

Jonathan, who assumed office last May after the death of Umaru Yar'Adua, has pledged to push a petroleum industry law through parliament. Passage of such legislation has been delayed for two years, deterring investment by companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) and Total SA. (FP) Oil exploration in Nigeria has slumped to the lowest in a decade; only one well was drilled in the past two years, compared with 34 in 2002, according to the Petroleum Ministry.

"President Jonathan's most important task after his inauguration will be the passage of the long-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill, currently laying dormant in the out-of-session parliament," Boe said. It "represents a sweeping overhaul of the country's lucrative oil and gas industry, establishing new regulatory structures and fiscal regimes."

Oil Industry

Nigeria is the fifth-largest source of U.S. oil imports. Paris-based Total, Hague-based Shell, Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Chevron Corp. (CVX) of San Ramon, California, and Eni SpA (ENI) of Rome run joint ventures with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that pump more than 90 percent of the West African nation's oil.

Jonathan has promised to continue an amnesty for former militants in the Niger River delta, a policy that has helped boost oil output there by 27 percent since July 2009. Attacks by rebels in the region cut Nigeria's oil output by more than 28 percent between 2006 and 2009.

Rising oil prices have spurred growth in the economy, which expanded an average 6.9 percent annually over the past five years, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. The same pace of growth is expected this year, the Washington- based lender said in its World Economic Outlook report on April 11.

The son of a canoe maker, Jonathan earned a degree in zoology and was relatively unknown until 1999, when he became deputy governor of Bayelsa state. He assumed the office of governor when his boss, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was impeached by the state assembly after being charged in the U.K. with money laundering.