© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu casts his ballot at a polling station, in Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria February 25, 2023 REUTERS/Nengi Nelson.
By Camillus Eboh and Tife Owolabi
ABUJA (Reuters) – Provisional results from Nigeria’s disputed presidential election showed Bola Tinubu from the ruling party closing in on victory, a Reuters tally of votes in 33 of the country’s 36 states and the federal capital Abuja showed on Tuesday.
Tinubu’s potential victory extends the All Progressives Congress party’s (APC) grip on power in Africa’s top oil producer and most populous nation, though he inherits a litany of problems from outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari.
Nigeria is struggling with Islamist insurgencies in the northeast, armed attacks, killings and kidnappings, conflict between livestock herders and farmers, cash, fuel and power shortages and perennial corruption that opponents say Buhari’s party has failed to stamp out, despite promises to do so.
With only 4 states left to declare, Tinubu was ahead with about 34% or 7.6 million of valid votes counted, making it highly likely he would be declared winner on Tuesday of the weekend election.
But opposition parties rejected the results as the product of a flawed process, which suffered multiple technical difficulties owing to the introduction of new technology by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and on Tuesday called on its chairman Mahmood Yakubu to resign.
Tinubu asked voters to elect him on his track record during his two terms as Lagos state governor at the turn of the century, during which he managed to reduce violent crime, improve the city’s hellish traffic jams and clean up rubbish.
The 70-year-old has, however, sometimes appeared frail in public, slurring his speech and answering questions with platitudes, leaving some to doubt how effective he would be.
OPPOSITION CRIES FOUL
Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was trailing with 29% or nearly 6.4 million valid votes. Peter Obi of the smaller Labour Party got 25% or about 5.5 million votes.
Obi’s campaign attracted young people and urban, more educated voters fed up with corrupt politics of the past.
Both parties and the smaller opposition ADC rejected the results.
“The results being declared at the National Collation centre have been heavily doctored and manipulated and do not reflect the wishes of Nigerians expressed at the polls,” they said in a joint statement.
INEC rejected the call.
“There are laid down procedures for aggrieved parties or candidates to follow when they are dissatisfied about the outcome of an election,” it said in a statement.
“Such procedures do not include calling on the INEC Chairman to resign or for the election to be cancelled.”
INEC officers in Rivers State, the capital of Africa’s biggest oil industry, said they had suspended the announcement of results after state collation officer Charles Adias had received death threats via text message.
“When there are crises in the polling unit, the attack is on my phone that I am responsible. When BVAS (voter identification machines) fail to function, the attack is equally on my phone that I am responsible,” Adias told journalists.
The Rivers State INEC would “reconvene” when his safety concerns had been addressed, he said.
In the capital Abuja, the INEC had said it would resume collating results at 2 p.m. (1300 GMT).
Nigerian electoral law says a candidate can win just by getting more votes than their rivals, provided they get 25% of the vote in at least two-thirds of the 36 states.
The election was also marred by violence in places, although seemingly not on the scale of previous ones.
The INEC had promised to upload results directly from each polling unit to its website but most were unable to do so immediately. By 1230 GMT, it had posted results from 83,906 polling units out of 176,846.
That meant results had to be collated manually inside ward and local government counting centres as in previous polls, problems observer missions also criticised as the result of poor planning.
There are fears frustrations over the process could boil over into violence.
In a normally bustling market on Lagos island, one of the most densely populated places in Africa, shops were shut and streets deserted on Tuesday morning.