ABUJA – Nigeria’s election commission announced the first results late Sunday from the country's closely watched presidential election, but it could days before a winner is declared.
The ruling All Progressives Congress party's candidate, Bola Tinubu, secured the most votes in southwest Nigeria's Ekiti state, the commission said at the national collation center in the capital, Abuja.
Results from 35 other states and Abuja were still pending after logistical problems and security concerns caused voting delays. People across the country continued casting ballots Sunday even though the general election, which included choosing a new national legislature, had been scheduled to end Saturday.
“We are aware there will be many more states concluding tonight and )tallies) coming to Abuja,” Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, said.
Voters keenly awaited for the announcement of the winner in the race to lead Africa’s most populous country, where incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is stepping down after two four-year terms.
There were three front-runners in the 18-party race: Tinubu, the main opposition party’s Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi with the Labour Party, the surprise candidate in what was long regarded as a two-person contest.
A winner is not expected to be announced until at least Monday. After the last presidential election, it took four days for a declaration of victory. A runoff election will be held if no candidate secures one-quarter of the votes from two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital city along with receiving the highest number of votes.
On Sunday, worshippers at the House on the Rock church in Abuja were asked to sing and dance in thanksgiving for a successful election. And in Enugu state, Catholic Bishop Igwebuike Onah urged the election commission to be transparent:
“We beg especially the Independent National Electoral Commission to be careful, judicious and transparent in handling the votes of the people," he said.
Some frustrated voters who were unable to cast ballots Saturday waited overnight at polling stations that stayed open on Sunday.
“I waited from morning till night to vote on Sunday and now they are taking time to announce (the winner),” Kate Imadu, 26, in Abuja.
Election officials blamed the delays on logistical issues, though other observers pointed to the upheaval created by a redesigned currency that has left many residents unable to obtain bank notes.
The cash shortage affected transportation not only for voters but also for election workers and police officers providing security. The challenges also likely resulted in low voter turnout, said Yiaga Africa, the country’s largest election monitoring body.
While Saturday's election was largely peaceful, observers said there were at least 135 critical incidents, including eight reports of ballot-snatching, that undermined the legitimacy of the country's democracy,
“It is unacceptable that Nigerians who have the constitutional rights to participate in an election go out to cast their vote and you have thugs who make it difficult for them,” said Samson Itodo, the head of Yiaga Africa. “The nation needs to really rise and condemn these acts of voter suppression that we observed yesterday,” he said.
Associated Press journalists saw armed men pull up to a voting station in a minibus Saturday, fire shots in the air and grab the presidential ballot box. The shots sent voters screaming and scattering, and ballots strewn across the floor.
In the capital, Abuja, some voters said they were barred from voting at all.
“They employed various strategies to make sure that we do not continue to vote,” said Emmanuel Ogbu. The 45-year-old trader waited with more than 100 people to vote Sunday but was told by election officials they didn't have enough supplies, such as ink, and needed to wait for the supervisor who had yet to arrive.
The elections were being carefully watched as Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that Nigeria will tie with the United States as the third most populous nation in the world after India and China.
Associated Press reporters Taiwo Ajayi in Abuja, Nigeria, Hilary Uguru in Asaba, Nigeria, and Sam Mednick in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, contributed.