Early tally in Nigerian election puts Buhari ahead, opposition rejects it
* Close contest between President Buhari and rival Atiku
* Buhari wins 7 of first 10 districts counted -official
* Results "incorrect, unacceptable" -main rival's party
* Dozens killed in election-related violence
* Election delay eroded trust, hit turnout -U.S. observers
(Updates states won, Buhari's party responds to opposition)
By Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah
ABUJA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - President Muhammadu Buhari took an
early lead on Monday in initial official results from Nigeria's
presidential election but the party of his main challenger
quickly rejected the tallies as "incorrect and unacceptable".
Saturday's election, which U.S. observers said had lost some
credibility after being abruptly delayed by a week by officials
citing organisational glitches, was expected to be Nigeria's
tightest since the end of military rule two decades ago.
At stake is control of Africa's top oil producer and biggest
economy. Northeast Nigeria has also been wracked a decade-long
battle with Islamist militants has spilled into neighbouring
countries and led to the deployment of a regional task force.
Buhari, 76, is a former military ruler seeking a second term
on an anti-corruption platform, while Atiku, 72, a businessman
and ex-vice president, has pledged above all to expand the role
of the private sector.
Initial results released by the Independent National
Electoral Commission (INEC) on Monday put Buhari in the lead,
having won in seven of Nigeria's 36 states, the commission said.
Atiku prevailed in two states and the capital Abuja, which
is not a state but treated as a separate district in elections.
In provisional results announced in state capitals but not
yet confirmed by the commission, Buhari and Atiku each won in
Asked about the early results, Buhari told reporters: "I
don't want to depend on rumours...We will rather wait for INEC
to announce the (full) results."
But the chairman of Atiku's People's Democratic Party (PDP),
Uche Secondus, said the election tallies announced so far were
"incorrect and unacceptable".
"The results are being manipulated and cancelled for APC to
retain power," he told reporters, referring to Buhari's party.
Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) said in a statement
that the PDP had "embarked on a cynical plan to discredit INEC
as a backup plan in the likely event of them losing the
The outcome, not expected until later in the week, appears
to hinge on which man voters trust most to revamp an economy
still struggling from a 2016 recession.
A credible and relatively calm vote would open a new chapter
in the chequered political history of Nigeria, where nearly six
decades of independence have been tarnished by military coups,
endemic corruption and secessionist movements.
But doubts rose when the election was postponed on Feb. 16,
just hours before it was due to begin, with authorities citing
problems in delivering ballot papers and results sheets.
The week-long delay in holding Nigeria's presidential
election damaged public trust in the process and probably
reduced Saturday's voter turnout, U.S. observers said.
The civil society group YIAGA AFRICA, which monitored the
election, projected turnout at 36-40 percent.
Situation Room, a monitoring mission comprising over 70
civic groups, said on Sunday that as many as 39 people had been
killed in election-related violence, and more than 260 in all
since the start of the campaign in October.
Voting, however, took place "in a generally peaceful
environment", said Hailemariam Desalegn, head of the African
Union observer mission and a former premier of Ethiopia.
"There were scattered incidents of violence but it was not
seen as pervasive on Election Day," said Derek Mitchell,
president of the U.S. observer mission.
Previous Nigerian elections have been marred by violence
among supporters of different political parties that at times
sparked conflict between Christians and Muslims. Security forces
are currently stretched by the Islamist insurgency as well as by
communal violence and banditry in other areas.
Hours before polls opened, explosions rocked Maiduguri,
capital of Borno state, epicentre of the insurgency. In
neighbouring Yobe, residents of the town of Geidam fled a
militant attack around the same time.
Scattered violence and problems with smart card readers that
authenticate voters' fingerprints meant voting in a small number
of precincts was put off to Sunday, Mitchell said.
"Serious operational shortcomings put an undue burden on
voters," Maria Arena, the EU's chief observer and member of the
European parliament, told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram and Paul Carsten
Writing by James Macharia
Editing by Mark Heinrich)
First Published: 2019-02-25 00:02:42
Updated 2019-02-25 22:54:52
© 2019 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved. Reuters content is the intellectual property of Thomson Reuters or its third party content providers. Any copying, republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. "Reuters" and the Reuters Logo are trademarks of Thomson Reuters and its affiliated companies.