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Challenger’s refusal to concede defeat in Nigerian presidential poll likely to drive violence around upcoming state elections

28 February 2019
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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the audience in Abuja after the electoral commission presented his certificate of election on 27 February. Source: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images

Incumbent Muhammadu Buhari was declared by Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on 27 February as winner of the presidential election held on 23 February, but rival Atiku Abubakar has criticised the poll as a "sham election" and vowed to take legal action.

  • Atiku Abubakar (widely referred to as Atiku) is likely to follow through on the threat of legal action, which will bring protests outside courts in the federal capital, Abuja. However, these protests will be limited in size by the knowledge that he has virtually no chance of overturning a wide margin of defeat. Buhari obtained 56% of the vote in the presidential election to Atiku's 41% despite only finishing ahead of his main rival in 19 of the 36 states, while Atiku took the lion's share in the remaining 17 and the Federal Capital Territory. However, the far greater number of voters in northern states, much greater margins of victory for Buhari, and higher turnouts contributed to the incumbent winning by nearly four million votes. Atiku has contended that there were "manifest and premeditated malpractices" in many states which negated the announced results. He said that one obvious red flag for systematic rigging was that states in the north-east affected by Islamist attacks which had put hundreds of thousands of people in refugee camps had higher turnouts than virtually every state in the relatively peaceful southern half of the country. In the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) strongholds of the South-South and South-East, there were 5.6 million valid votes, down from 7.9 million in 2015. Atiku has claimed that the military was used in these zones to harass voters and reduce the turnout, while he was also disadvantaged by the postponement of the election for a week, announced just hours before the original election date of 16 February, meaning many voters were unable to return home again on the later date to cast their votes.

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