ABUJA (Reuters) – President Muhammadu Buhari has won a second term in Nigeria, the election board said on Wednesday, but his main rival planned a fraud challenge after a vote marred by delays, logistical glitches and scores of deaths.
More than 260 people were killed since the start of the campaign in October, 47 of them during Saturday’s vote and its aftermath, according to one monitoring group.
Buhari, a 76-year-old former military ruler took 56 percent of votes against 41 for his main rival, businessman and former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party.
The incumbent has a daunting to-do list, including reviving an economy still struggling to recover from a 2016 recession and quelling a decade-old Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands in the northeast, many of them civilians.
“The new administration will intensify its efforts in security, restructuring the economy and fighting corruption,” he told celebrating supporters at the campaign headquarters of his All Progressive Congress party in the capital Abuja.
The president garnered 15.2 million votes to Atiku’s 11.3 million, on turnout of just 35.6 percent, the electoral commission said. That compared with 44 percent turnout in 2015.
While Buhari urged supporters not to gloat or “humiliate” the opposition, Atiku said the election was rigged.
“It is clear that there were manifest and premeditated malpractices in many states which negate the results announced,” he said. “I hereby reject the result of the February 23, 2019, sham election and will be challenging it in court.”
One obvious red flag was that states in the northeast ravaged by insurgents’ attacks generated much higher voter turnouts than peaceful states, Atiku said.
The opposition’s accusations have heightened tensions in Africa’s most populous nation and biggest oil producer where six decades of independence have seen long periods of military rule, coups and secessionist wars.
But the controversy could just peter out, as happened recently after a presidential vote in Democratic Republic of Congo. “A legal challenge is very unlikely to overturn the official result,” said John Ashbourne, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London, of the Nigerian election.
DEATHS AND DELAYS
The candidate with the most votes nationwide is declared the winner as long as they have at least one quarter of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital, Abuja.
Buhari secured enough votes to meet both requirements, a remarkable turnaround after the race looked close.
He campaigned on pledges to fight corruption and overhaul Nigeria’s creaking road and rail network.
“As a youth of Nigeria, I believe this is the way forward for this country and for my generation, and that is why we choose to bring him back for the second time,” said Juwarat Abubakar among cheering supporters.
Atiku, 72, had said he would aim to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025, privatize the state oil company and expand the role of the private sector.
“As President Buhari seems likely to remain in power, Nigeria’s credit challenges remain and include a low growth environment, very high exposure to fluctuations in oil prices of government revenues and export earnings, weak institutions, and high levels of corruption,” said Aurelien Mali, Moody’s senior analytical adviser for Africa.
Voting was delayed by a week after the election commission was unable to get ballots and results sheets to all areas.
At least 47 people were killed during voting and afterwards, according to the Situation Room, a monitoring organization linking various civil society groups.
Some deaths resulted from clashes between groups allied to the leading parties and the police over the theft of ballot boxes and allegations of vote fraud.
Police have not yet provided official casualty figures.
More than 260 people were killed since the start of the election campaign in October. That toll is lower than past elections, but in those cases the worst violence has occurred after results.
The vote was also affected by problems with smart-card fingerprint readers. That meant voting in a small number of precincts was put off to Sunday.
U.S. observers said the delay had probably reduced turnout, while the European Union bemoaned “serious operational shortcomings”.
Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram, Camillus Eboh and Chijioke Ohuocha; Writing by James Macharia and Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Cawthorne