ABUJA (BLOOMBERG) - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari held the edge in early election results that the main opposition party claimed were being manipulated following a vote marred by delays and at least 39 deaths.
After results from 11 of Nigeria's 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Mr Buhari led his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, by a 51 per cent to 46 per cent margin, according to data announced on Monday (Feb 25) by the Independent National Electoral Commission in the capital, Abuja.
The final vote tally is expected Tuesday or Wednesday.
With his strong support in the northwest, the region with the greatest number of registered voters, Mr Buhari's prospects of winning re-election are bright, said Max Siollun, a Nigerian historian based in New York.
"The results so far will give Buhari and his supporters great confidence - it will take a tectonic shift in result patterns for Atiku to win," he said in an emailed response to questions. "If the north-western results as expected show heavy voting there for Buhari, then a Buhari victory will be a near certainty."
The presidential and parliamentary election in Africa's top oil producer was the continent's biggest-ever democratic exercise.
Almost 73 million people were eligible to vote Saturday in what analysts thought would be a tight race mainly between Mr Buhari, an ex-general who campaigned on an anti-graft platform, and Mr Abubakar, a 72-year-old businessman and former vice president.
The chairman of Mr Abubakar's People's Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus, accused the government of using "inducements, manipulation and incarcerations" and enlisting the police and national army "to silence the voices of our long suffering people."
In a statement, he threatened to challenge some results.
Mr Buhari's All Progressives Congress rejected the claims in a statement, accusing the PDP of trying to "discredit and destabilize" the electoral process.
The election pitted two men of contrasting economic views, with Mr Buhari, who favours a strong government role, against Mr Abubakar, a pro-market multimillionaire who has said he would float the national currency and sell stakes in the state oil company.
Wall Street banks such as Citigroup had said Nigerian equities and bonds will probably rally if Mr Abubakar wins. The stock market closed up 0.6 per cent in Lagos on Monday to extend its gains this year to 4 per cent.
ELECTION DAY FATALITIES
At least 39 people were killed in election-related violence, Clement Nwankwo, the chairman of Situation Room, a monitoring group, told reporters Monday in Abuja.
The inspector general of police, who didn't give a death toll, said 128 people were arrested for offences such as homicide and snatching of ballot boxes.
INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu said an election worker was killed by a stray bullet in Rivers state.
"Serious operational shortcomings placed undue burden on voters," the European Union observer mission said, while the African Union called the vote "largely peaceful and orderly."
To win, a candidate must get the majority of votes and at least 25 per cent in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states and Federal Capital Territory. Otherwise, there'll be a second round.
Mr Abubakar's PDP suffered an early blow when one of its highest-profile politicians, Senate President Bukola Saraki, lost his seat in the southwestern state of Kwara to the candidate from Mr Buhari's APC, according to INEC results.
"Whilst the environment was tense and divisive, overall, fundamental freedoms of association, expression, assembly and movement were generally respected," the chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Group, former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, told reporters in Abuja.
Both Mr Buhari and Mr Abubakar are northern Muslims in a country split roughly evenly between a Christian south and Islamic north.
Mr Buhari ruled the country briefly as a dictator in the 1980s and morphed into a civilian politician who won on his fourth try for the presidency in 2015. Mr Abubakar, who was vice president between 1999 and 2007, has business interests ranging from oil and gas services to food manufacturing and a private university.
Mr 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 a contraction in 2016, the economy expanded 1.9 per cent last year, the fastest since Mr 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.
Mr 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.
Mr Buhari's suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, accused of falsely declaring his assets, just weeks before the presidential election, was criticised by the legal community, the US and the European Union, because the vote results may be contested in the Supreme Court.
Mr Abubakar portrays himself as someone who knows how to get things done and his pro-market policies have won some favour among investors. While he's faced allegations of corruption, he denies any wrongdoing and has never been indicted at home or abroad.