The parties of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, claimed early successes in a general election on Saturday that was partly marred by delays, technical glitches and sporadic violence.
As many as 73 million people were eligible to vote in a tightrace between Buhari, 76, a former general who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, and Abubakar, a 72-year-old businessman and former vice president. The National Independent Electoral Commission is expected to start announcing results in the coming days. There will be reruns in some parts of Lagos, Anambra and Rivers states, Lagos-based Punch newspaper reported Sunday.
“Overall, the situation has been calm, apart from incidents in places such as Rivers and Lagos,” Chris Kwaja, a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said by phone from Abuja, the capital. “The results are yet to come in and anything could happen. Those could change everything. There’s still the potential for violence.”
The presidential and parliamentary election in Africa’s top oil producer was the continent’s biggest-ever democratic exercise. Much will depend on turnout, which was less than 44 percent four years ago when Buhari became the first opposition candidate elected to the presidency in the West African nation’s history.
“There was a lot of fear that a lot of people wouldn’t come out to vote in some places because they’re afraid of security challenges,” said Jibrin Ibrahim, director at the Abuja-based Centre For Democracy and Development. “Notwithstanding, people came out.”
To win, a candidate must get the majority of votes and at least 25 percent in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and Federal Capital Territory. If none of them achieve that, there’ll be a second round. Analysts were more or less split down the middle over who would win ahead of the election.
Despite the late opening of polls in the south-east, Abubakar’s opposition People’s Democratic Party won “strong shares of the vote” there and increased its support in the south-west, which contains the commercial capital of Lagos, and the north-central zone, he said in a statement.
“The people of Nigeria can take solace that very soon the living nightmare of the last four years will come to an end so that together we will get Nigeria working again,” Abubakar said.
Buhari’s personal assistant, Bashir Ahmad, claimed “overwhelming” results in favor of the president.
Buhari’s All Progressives Congress touted that he’d won at the polling station where Abubakar voted, in the northeastern state of Adamawa. The president easily won at the unit where he cast his ballot in the state of Katsina in the north.
Wall Street banks such as Citigroup Inc. say Nigerian equities and bonds will probably rally if Abubakar wins. Since Buhari came to office, Nigeria’s stock market has been the world’s worst performer, losing about half its value in dollar terms.
Just hours before the election started in Africa’s most populous nation, Islamist militants fired artillery shells into the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, the military said in a statement. The insurgents, some allied to Islamic State, have been fighting in the region for a decade in a bid to impose their version of shariah law.
While Buhari and Abubakar are both northern Muslims in a country split roughly evenly between a Christian south and Islamic north, their career paths are very different.
Buhari ruled the country briefly in the 1980s and morphed into a civilian politician who won on his fourth try for the presidency in 2015. Abubakar, a former vice president, has business interests ranging from oil and gas services to food manufacturing and a private university.
Both carry heavy baggage. Buhari and his APC have faced sharp criticism for their handling of the economy. The president imposed capital controls as the naira currency came under pressure amid plunging revenue from oil, the country’s main export, and foreign investors fled. After an economic contraction in 2016, the economy expanded 1.9 percent last year, the fastest since Buhari’s election.
Yet Nigeria now has more extremely poor people, 87 million, than any other nation, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. The United Nations expects its population to double to 410 million by 2050, overtaking everywhere bar India and China.
Buhari’s supporters paint him as an honest politician who provides a sharp counterpart to the PDP that governed Nigeria for 16 years from the end of military rule in 1999.
Buhari’s suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, accused of falsely declaring his assets, just weeks before the presidential election, was criticized by the legal community, the U.S. and the European Union, because the vote results may be contested in the Supreme Court.
Abubakar portrays himself as someone who knows how to get things done and his pro-market policies have won some favor among investors. While he’s faced allegations of corruption, he denies any wrongdoing and has never been indicted at home or abroad.
“Although not perfect, voting went relatively smoothly in most parts of the country,” Ronak Gopaldas, a director at Cape Town-based Signal Risks, said in an emailed response to questions. “The real anxiety will probably only start once results are released — already there are questions around whether the loser will accept the result gracefully or will agitate for protests either through the courts or the streets.”