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VAS

Buhari in early lead as concerns mount over Nigeria vote

AFRICA
By AFP | February 26th 2019
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and main challenger Atiku Abubakar

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari scored early gains on Monday in his bid for re-election after dozens died in weekend violence and monitors voiced concern about polling-day problems.

The 76-year-old candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party won 57 percent of the vote in the southwestern state of Ekiti, the first to announce its results.

His main challenger Atiku Abubakar's first win was in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, where he beat Buhari by a margin of nearly 108,000. Buhari lost the polling unit set up at the presidential villa to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate.

At 1600 GMT, Buhari was ahead by four states to one, with 1,317,976 votes to former vice president Abubakar's 1,173,437.

To win, a candidate needs a majority of votes and at least 25 percent of support in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states and the FCT.

A total of 72.7 million people were eligible to cast their ballot in Saturday's polls. Parliamentary elections were held at the same time.

The election -- the sixth in the 20 years since Nigeria returned to democracy after decades of military rule -- was held on Saturday, a week after a last-gasp postponement.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) blamed logistical difficulties, which were not entirely ironed out by this weekend, forcing voting to go into a second day.

Criticisms

The European Union said there were "serious operational shortcomings", which saw polling units open late, leaving voters waiting for hours with no idea when voting would start.

The Situation Room umbrella group of over 70 civil society organisations observing the vote called for an inquiry into what it said was INEC's "poor management" of the process.

It highlighted lapses in logistics, technology and security and said INEC had "not managed the election efficiently and significant shortcomings have been recorded".

"The election has been a step back from the 2015 General Election and actions should be taken to identify what has gone wrong and what can be corrected," it added.

The head of the African Union observer mission, Ethiopia's former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, also said they were concerned "by the pattern of consistent postponement".

The last two elections have suffered similar delays and Hailemariam said the latest postponement had "implications for citizens' participation and turnout".

"Last-minute election postponements should not become the norm in Nigeria," added the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute.

The two organisations said was "highly probable" voter turn-out had been affected. Monitors Yiaga Africa said early indications were turn-out of 36-40 percent.

Death toll

The election took place against a backdrop of fears about security across the country, as well as claims from both parties that the other was looking to rig the result.

Neither produced evidence but INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu on Sunday said there were reports of ballot-snatching, vote-buying and violence.

One election volunteer was killed by a stray bullet in the southern state of Rivers, where some INEC staff and even police were held hostage before being released unharmed.

Other election staff were attacked in the southern state of Akwa Ibom and Kogi in the north central region.

The Situation Room, which had some 8,000 monitors on the ground, said "at least 39 Nigerians" were killed in election-related violence on Saturday and Sunday.

Worst-affected was Rivers state, where 16 people were killed. Six other people lost their lives in the neighbouring states of Bayelsa and Delta, in the oil-rich Niger delta region.

Previously, analysts SBM Intelligence said 233 people were killed in 67 incidents of election-related violence from last October to Friday -- an average of two people per day.

The Situation Room highlighted reports that just over a quarter of the nearly 120,000 polling units were under-policed, and said there were "shortfalls and gaps" in security elsewhere.

At least six states saw disruption in polling. In the Okoto area of the country's biggest city, Lagos, voters were chased away and ballot boxes were destroyed.

In Osun state, ballot papers and boxes were destroyed at the local INEC office.

There were also reports of some "partisan" security officials, "compromised" INEC staff and incidents involving the military, including blocking some voters.

Police said separately that 128 people had been arrested across the country for electoral offences, including murder, vote-buying and ballot box snatching.

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