By Camillus Eboh
Abuja (Reuters) - Nigeria's Supreme Court threw out a challenge to President Goodluck Jonathan's election victory in April, upholding the result and rejecting calls by the main opposition party for a recount in several parts of the country.
Jonathan was declared winner with 59 percent of the vote but his nearest rival, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who scored 32 percent, refused to accept the outcome.
Buhari's Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party filed a petition to challenge it in May, arguing the vote was marred by irregularities. But the Supreme Court's judgment on Wednesday upheld earlier rulings by lower courts in Jonathan's favour.
"The judgment of the lower court is affirmed and consequently the third respondent (Goodluck Jonathan) ... won the election conducted on 16 April 2011," Justice Olufunmilayo Adekeye told the court on Wednesday, reading out a unanimous decision by seven judges.
Rioting erupted in largely Muslim opposition strongholds in the north after the victory of Jonathan, a Christian from the south, was announced in May. Churches, mosques, homes and shops were set ablaze and at least 500 people were killed.
This ruling ends the legal challenge against Jonathan's mandate, giving him a breather to focus on governance in Africa's most populous nation, but coincides with more attacks.
On Sunday, Islamist militants set off bombs across the country, three targeting churches, including one that killed at least 27 people. On Tuesday night, attackers threw a homemade bomb into an Arabic school in Delta state, wounding seven people, mostly children.
The CPC had said the electoral commission computers were rigged to sway the count against Buhari, a northern Muslim, in parts of the north, and that the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) vote was inflated in some of its southern strongholds.
In response to the judgment, Buhari said he acknowledged that no election was perfect anywhere but he questioned how the ruling party could secure almost 100 percent of votes cast in most parts of the country, calling it "plain fraud."
"The Supreme Court has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to this gross irregularity," Buhari said after the judgment.
"All who witnessed the conduct of the 2011 election will know that this decision ... is politically motivated and has little judicial content, he told reporters outside the courtroom, but added that he would accept the decision.
Election observers and most Nigerians say the vote was the most credible for decades in Africa's second biggest economy, which had experienced virtually nothing but military rule and rigged elections for the past half-century.
Although Buhari was ahead in almost all of the states in northern Nigeria, Jonathan also picked up millions of votes in the region, giving him a credible national mandate.
Yet the PDP's parliamentary majority has been reduced and it also lost control of several states in governorship races held 10 days after the presidential vote.
(Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Alison Williams)