Election Day violence killed at least 39 people across Nigeria, civil society groups reported, and with ballot-counting temporarily halted and rumors flying, Nigerians were left waiting on Monday for an announcement of the winner in the presidential contest.
With President Muhammadu Buhari vying for a second term against more than 70 challengers, elections officials briefly halted the count, saying that results from Saturday’s voting had yet to be received from all districts.
The 18-hour gap until tabulation began again late Monday morning left time for more rumors to spread about whether the delay was helping the leading candidates rig the results. At one point, members of the party of the leading challenger, Atiku Abubakar, declared victory, a notion that was far from certain.
Much of the violence on Saturday played out in the south of the country, in opposition strongholds where the tight election is particularly contested, according to Cheta Nwanze, head of research at SBM Intelligence, a nonpartisan group that has been critical of the government and is tracking violence based on reports from local police and media.
Delays have been a reigning theme of Nigeria’s presidential election, which had been scheduled to take place a week earlier. To the frustration of many voters, the national electoral commission, citing logistical issues, postponed the vote in the middle of the night, just hours before polling places were to open.
Both Mr. Buhari, 76, and Mr. Abubakar, 72, a businessman and former vice president, spun theories about the delay, each claiming that the commission was stalling to gain an advantage for the other camp. As early results trickled in Monday afternoon, favoring the incumbent, the fiery head of Mr. Abubakar’s political party accused Mr. Buhari’s party of tampering with results and colluding with elections officials.
When the vote finally took place on Saturday, most polling stations did not open until four hours after the official starting time, civil society groups reported. Some opened so late that they had to reopen on Sunday to give voters the six hours allotted to cast ballots — one reason cited by election officials for delaying the tabulation.
It became apparent on Sunday and Monday that violence on Election Day had been worse than originally reported.
One election worker was killed by a stray bullet in Rivers State, a restive region where six civilians and one soldier also died in a shootout, in a separate incident, according to civil society groups. In the same state, some election workers and police officers were taken hostage, but released unharmed, the groups said.