Nigerians start another day of waiting on election results

In this photo released by the Nigeria State House, Nigeria Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, left, listen to Director of Election Planning and Monitoring Babatunde Raji Fashola, right, as he explain the progress of the party election results in Abuja, Nigeria Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Nigeria's electoral commission on Monday began announcing official results from the country's 36 states as President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a second term. (Bayo Omoboriowo/Nigeria State House via AP)
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KANO, Nigeria (AP) — Radios and WhatsApp groups pinged to life on Tuesday as anxious Nigerians awaited a second day of state-by-state announcements of presidential election results in a race described as too close to call.

President Muhammadu Buhari leads by more than 280,000 votes as he seeks a second term in Africa’s largest democracy, urging Nigerians to give him time to build on the “foundation” of his first that was hurt by a rare recession and widespread insecurity.

Eleven of 36 states have been announced, with the process resuming at 10 a.m. and expecting to continue late into the day or even Wednesday. States with the largest numbers of voters have yet to be announced.

Buhari has won seven states, including two in the northeast, while top challenger Atiku Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president, has won four southern states and the capital’s territory.

Abubakar’s party has alleged manipulation of results after Saturday’s vote. The ruling party has rejected the claim and called it an attempt to discredit the election, which some observers have called a step back from the 2015 vote seen as one of the best-run in the country’s history.

In Kano the final total was reached at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

“Well, we thank God that at least we finished this safely, without any hitches,” the Kano state electoral commissioner, Riskuwa Shehu, told The Associated Press.

Within minutes, he would join the state collation officer, police and state security agents in carrying the results to the capital, Abuja, where they would get in line to announce Buhari’s win in Nigeria’s second most populous state.

Turnout in Kano state appeared to be lower than in the previous election, Shehu said. He pointed to a number of factors, including the fear of possible violence after heated campaigning.

“Possibly, the disappointment of the postponement” was another factor, he said, noting “maybe a lack of confidence in the system,” though observers also have praised some improvements from 2015.

Overall, with no reported deaths in Kano during this electoral process, “so far, so good,” he said.

Nigerians now wonder whether Buhari or Abubakar will follow through on pledges to accept a loss, or whether they will challenge the results. One former United States ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, says the troubled election has given them grounds to go to the courts. That route could take months.

“Alhamdulillah,” said 36-year-old Umar Ibrahim, who bantered with clients about politics at his tiny shop in the northern city of Kano, where the president was projected to win one of the largest states. “Up to now they say Buhari is leading, far. He is a good elder.”

Ibrahim praised the process as peaceful, saying Nigeria could have no progress without it.

Grace Eje, a 25-year-old house worker, held out hope for Abubakar, saying Nigeria needed someone new after Buhari. “No money, no work, no help from him,” she said of the president, grimacing.

Both foreign and domestic election observers say this vote was hurt by a weeklong postponement and significant delays in the opening of polling stations, likely discouraging many people from voting. Ballot box-snatching and vote-buying were also reported.

While observers said the process was generally peaceful, at least 39 people were killed, including an election worker hit by a stray bullet. The electoral commission chairman made an urgent telephone call to secure the release others taken hostage.

Nigeria’s some 190 million people say they pray for peace. They were surprised in 2015 when President Goodluck Jonathan conceded before official results were announced to Buhari, a former military dictator who pulled off the first defeat of an incumbent by the opposition in the country’s history.

Many worry that such a concession appears unlikely this time.

“Jonathan set the benchmark on how electoral outcomes should be handled,” Chris Kwaja, a senior adviser to the United States Institute of Peace, told The Associated Press. “Accept defeat in the spirit of sportsmanship. This is a critical vehicle for democratic consolidation. So far, it is unclear what the candidates will do.”

For the presidency, a candidate must win a majority of overall votes as well as at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states. If that isn’t achieved, the election moves to a runoff.

The YIAGA Africa project, which deployed more than 3,900 observers, projected that no runoff election will be needed and that a “clear winner” would emerge.

It was not yet clear how many of Nigeria’s estimated 73 million eligible voters turned out. YIAGA estimated turnout at between 36 percent and 40 percent, down from 44 percent in 2015. That would continue the trend of recent elections.