Incumbent Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday looked on course for victory over his main rival in Nigeria’s presidential election, with just a handful of states left to declare, as the opposition called for a halt to the vote count
With results in from 27 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), had a lead of nearly 3.5 million votes over his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
To win, a candidate needs a majority of votes nationwide and at least 25 percent of support in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT.
Buhari, 76, has won 15 states including the two biggest in terms of population, Lagos and Kano, while Abubakar, 72, has 12 states plus the FCT.
Three of the four states left to declare were in the northwest, where Buhari enjoys huge support, making it unlikely Abubakar can claw back the deficit with wins in the remaining southern states.
Voting took place on Saturday after a week-long postponement, which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) blamed on difficulties in distributing ballot boxes and materials.
The APC and PDP have accused each other of conspiring with the electoral board to rig the result, against a backdrop of wider concern about transparency and a credible vote.
The PDP on Monday said the APC was trying to “manipulate the result”, which could be a prelude to a legal challenge of the outcome.
On Tuesday, it called for an “immediate halt to the ongoing collation of results”, claiming data from voter card readers had been altered to suit the ruling party.
As-yet undeclared results from the northeast state of Borno and Zamfara in the northwest should be “deleted”, said Tanimu Turaki, from Abubakar’s campaign team.
He also called for tens of thousands of “valid, lawful” PDP votes in the north central states of Plateau and Nasarawa, and the FCT to be reinstated.
– Voter apathy –
The death toll from election-weekend violence meanwhile jumped from 39 to 53, according to the Situation Room, an umbrella group of civil society monitors.
Some election observers have reported instances of vote-buying, intimidation and violence towards voters and officials, which have been a problem in previous polls in Nigeria.
The issues will likely prompt calls for electoral reform, including the introduction of technology capable of directly transmitting results from polling units.
Several international monitoring bodies have warned that repeated postponements could undermine confidence in the electoral process, after similar delays in 2011 and 2015.
Yemi Adamolekun, from Enough is Enough Nigeria pro-governance and transparency group, which is part of the Situation Room, said the levels of rigging and violence were “disturbing”.
She said some INEC staff were forced to release results under duress and they were investigating claims that 120 volunteers were also intimidated into declaring winners.
A total of 72.7 million people were eligible to vote in the presidential poll as well as parliamentary elections held at the same time.
The parliamentary poll claimed a number of high-profile victims, including Senate president Bukola Saraki, who lost his seat in the north central state of Kwara.
Saraki, who stood against Abubakar for the PDP presidential ticket, has been at loggerheads with Buhari and the government for several years.
There were signs of a low voter turnout, blamed on a combination of apathy because of the delay, organisational and logistical problems, as well as unrest.
In some places in the southwest, where pro-Biafran separatists had called on supporters to boycott the election, turnout was as low as 18 percent.
Only one in six registered voters — just over one million people — cast their ballot in Lagos, which is home to 20 million.
In other places, just one in four registered voters turned out. The low levels of participation could have a longer-term impact on the legitimacy of the new government’s mandate.