ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigerian opposition contender Muhammadu Buhari, an ex-general who first won power three decades ago in a military coup, closed in on a historic election victory on Tuesday, maintaining a hefty lead in the vote count in Africa’s most populous nation.

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Supporters of presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari gesture in front of his election posters in Kano March 27, 2015. REUTERS/Goran TomasevicAccording to a Reuters tally collated from 33 of Nigeria’s 36 states, the 72-year-old Buhari had more than 14 million votes, testament to the faith Nigerians have put in him as a born-again democrat intent on cleaning up Nigeria’s corrupt politics.

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Buhari’s support compared to 11 million for President Goodluck Jonathan, whose five years at the helm of the richest country in Africa have been plagued by corruption scandals and an insurgency by Islamist Boko Haram militants.

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One of Jonathan’s big support bases in the oil-producing Niger Delta is yet to report but the gap is so large that most analysts said it was impossible to see the leader of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) closing it.

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Bar some technical glitches and the killing of more than a dozen voters by Boko Haram insurgents in the northeast, the election has been the smoothest since the end of military rule in 1999 – a factor that appears to have played in the outcome.

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“There are probably lots of reasons why the PDP might have lost, but I think the key one is that the elections just haven’t been rigged,” said Antony Goldman, a business consultant with high-level contacts in Nigeria.

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“If you leave it to the Nigerian people they will be ready to make big decisions and to make Nigeria look something more like a conventional democracy.”

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