Kano, Feb 26 (AP/UNB) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari surged to an early lead in election returns Monday, winning seven of 36 states in Africa's largest democracy, while the main opposition rejected the count, alleging manipulation.
Election observers said the last-minute postponement of the vote until Saturday discouraged some Nigerians from going to the polls as Buhari seeks a second term heading a country troubled by corruption, insecurity and a weak economy.
Buhari, a former military dictator from the north, faced a strong challenge from top opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and businessman, in a race many saw as too close to call.
As of midnight, Abubakar had won three southern states and the territory that includes the capital, Abuja. Buhari led by more than 450,000 votes overall.
Abubakar's party chairman, Uche Secondus, accused ruling party agents of hacking into the electoral commission's computer server and manipulating results. He rejected the count as "incorrect, thus unacceptable."
The ruling party dismissed the claim and accused Abubakar's party of trying to discredit the election. Spokesman Festus Keyamo urged the opposition not to "derail us to the dark past with its childish antics."
Final results are expected on Tuesday or Wednesday.
African Union observers called the political climate "largely peaceful and conducive for the conducting of credible elections" but urged the country of some 190 million people to remain calm.
A Nigerian civil society platform, the Situation Room, noted "major logistic lapses" in the vote. The election was a step back from 2015, praised as one of Nigeria's most transparent and efficient votes, the group said.
At least 39 people were killed in voting-related violence over the weekend. Election observers organized by the Commonwealth, of which Nigeria is a member, called that "deeply troubling," saying Africa's largest democracy can do better.
"The peaceful achievement of millions was overshadowed by the violence of a few," U.S. Ambassador Stuart Symington said.
Nigeria's election was originally scheduled for Feb. 16 but the electoral commission postponed it just hours before polls were to open, citing logistical issues. The late arrival of election officials and materials, as well as malfunctions and harassment, caused voting to continue in parts of the country into Sunday.
The delays "risk undermining citizen confidence in elections and disenfranchising voters," the U.S.-based International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute observers said. European Union observers said many people were discouraged from voting.
It was not yet clear how many of Nigeria's estimated 73 million eligible voters turned out. The YIAGA Africa project, which deployed more than 3,900 observers, put it at between 36 percent and 40 percent, down from 44 percent in 2015. It projected that no runoff election will be needed.
Widespread concerns continued about possible incitement to violence by the major political parties, the U.S.-based observers said, while noting that Nigerians have showed resilience and patience.
Supporters of Buhari and Abubakar briefly confronted each other in the northern city of Kano, pulling knives and machetes. The overall mood was celebratory, however, as the ruling party anticipated victory in Nigeria's largest city and the heart of the largely Muslim north.
The president is widely seen as being relatively upright in a country riddled with corruption. But some voters said he has not delivered on his promises.
"I believe we need a change," said 34-year-old Cosmos Eze in Kano, as a television in his auto parts shop broadcast election results.
Shops along his street are sprinkled with names like Blessed, Success and Godswill, but workers grumbled. Nigeria's economy dipped into a rare recession in 2016 when global oil prices crashed, and unemployment shot up to 23 percent. Recovery from the recession has been slow.
A bag of rice that was 7,500 naira ($20) before Buhari took office is now twice that, said Nasir Auwal, a 35-year-old bank worker.
He supported the president, however, saying the threat from the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has essentially disappeared in the city that once saw scores of people killed.
"Before, when I left my house, my wife would cry because she was afraid I would not come back," Auwal said. The extremists were largely pushed out of communities under Buhari but have made a deadly resurgence in recent months, attacking military bases in the northeast.
Waiting for the announcement of a winner, 48-year-old shop worker Innocent Akannam repeated the wishes of many Nigerians.
"What I'm expecting after the final results is, let there be peace," he said.
Kano, Feb 25 (AP/UNB) — Nigeria faced a second day of voting in scattered areas Sunday in a presidential election seen as too close to call, while the death toll from vote-related violence mounted in Africa's largest democracy.
The electoral commission said voting was generally peaceful, but it mourned the killing of one of its workers by a stray bullet in Rivers state in the restive south. At least 39 people had died in extremist and other attacks, said analysis unit SBM Intelligence, citing informants and media reports.
More than 72 million people had been eligible to vote in Africa's most populous country and largest economy. The election was held a week late after the electoral commission at the last minute cited several logistical challenges.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who unseated the incumbent in the 2015 election, seeks a second term against more than 70 candidates. His main rival is Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who has made sweeping claims of reviving an economy still limping back from a rare recession.
Voting continued in parts of Abia, Bayelsa, Benue, Plateau, Zamfara and Sokoto states after the process was extended because of various issues.
"Nigerians have demonstrated extraordinary resilience and abiding faith in the electoral process," electoral commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu said.
Official results could come as early as Monday. Meanwhile, observers warned of potential thuggery as local officials raced to compile votes across the country.
Yakubu said some election workers had faced "intimidation, abduction, hostage-taking and violence." In one case, he made an urgent phone call to secure the release of workers and police taken hostage in Rivers state. All were unharmed, he said.
Nigerian police said 128 people had been arrested in suspected vote-related offenses, including ballot box-snatching, vote-trading and impersonation, while a "cache of explosives" was found. Police called the election generally successful, though it expressed concern about hate speech by some politicians and supporters.
Many Nigerians, appalled that their country recently became the world leader in the number of people living in extreme poverty, said the election will be decided by economic issues. Nigeria slipped into recession under Buhari when global oil prices crashed, with unemployment growing significantly to 23 percent and inflation now above 11 percent.
One of the largest domestic observer groups, Watching the Vote, said Nigeria had missed its chance to improve on the 2015 election, seen as one of the most transparent in the country's history.
Logistical problems caused 59 percent of the polling stations monitored to open late, but delays and misconduct at some stations didn't necessarily undermine the election's credibility, spokesman Hussaini Abdu said.
In the northern city of Kano, tempers flared at one vote compilation center where Abubakar supporters alleged that ballots from a couple of polling units hadn't been counted. Amid shouting, security personnel ejected them.
A ruling party supervisor, Joy Bako, watched in exasperation after she spent a sleepless night standing guard over results, like many party agents across the country.
"It was free and fair," she said. "Nobody was arguing. I'm surprised at all this noise."
Even one Abubakar supporter, Abubakar Ali, paused from the ruckus to acknowledge that everything had been "going clear." But many people didn't come out to vote as compared to 2015, he said.
Godwin Ugbala, an agent for one of Nigeria's dozens of small political parties, also reported a smooth voting day. He added his voice to many Nigerians' frustration with Buhari, though some said they saw no other option.
"This one failed us in so many ways," Ugbala said. "No business. Everything is tired." He voted for Buhari in 2015 but said the president had "betrayed" the people by not following up on promises to tackle insecurity and corruption.
Dakar, Feb 24 (AP/UNB) — Senegalese voters are choosing whether to give President Macky Sall a second term in office as he faces four challengers.
Polls opened at 8 a.m. in the capital of Dakar, where Sall has dubbed himself the "builder of modern Senegal."
The West African democracy has a long tradition of peaceful transfers of power.
Critics, though, have accused Sall of blocking two prominent opposition politicians from challenging him in the vote including Dakar's former mayor.
The presidency asserts that the disqualified candidates were convicted of corruption charges and that Senegal's judiciary is independent.
Sall must win a majority in Sunday's vote in order to avoid a runoff. His main competitors are former prime minister Idrissa Seck and former tax official Ousmane Sonko.
Daura, Feb 23 (AP/UNB) -Nigeria's president says he will be congratulating himself at the end of the election after he was among the first Nigerians to cast their ballots.
A jovial President Muhammadu Buhari brushed aside reporters' questions about whether he would accept a loss to top challenger Atiku Abubakar in a race some observers now see as too close to call.
Buhari, voting in his northern hometown of Daura, jokingly checked the ballot his wife was casting to see whom she had voted for.
The president called the voting process smooth but in other parts of the country some officials were reporting concerns with a delayed opening of polls and a heavy security presence perhaps intimidating potential voters.
Nigerians have begun voting in a presidential election one week after a surprise last-minute delay blamed on logistical challenges.
President Muhammadu Buhari has cast his ballot as he seeks a second term in a race that observers now say is too close to call with top challenger and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The ailing Buhari has been criticized for not delivering enough on his promises to tackle insecurity, the economy and corruption. Abubakar points to his business success in making sweeping pledges to turn the economy around but is dogged by corruption allegations.
Gunfire has been heard in at least two cities shortly before the polls opened, but police in Maiduguri in the northeast called the blasts there a show of force by security forces.
Multiple blasts in Nigeria's northeast are opening election day as President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a second term in Africa's most populous nation.
The blasts in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri came shortly before polls were to open. Police there say it was for "security purposes" and not an attack.
Gunfire also has been heard in parts of Port Harcourt in the restive south, where the military presence is said to be heavier than in past elections.
Buhari in a final address to the nation on Friday vowed that the more than 72 million Nigerians who can vote in this election would be able to go to the polls in peace.
But the Boko Haram extremist group, its Islamic State-affiliated offshoot and various agitators across the country have other plans.
Cairo, Feb 23 (AP/UNB) — Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, facing deadly protests, on Friday declared a state of emergency for a year, disbanded the federal government and replaced all state governors with senior army officers.
Al-Bashir — who seized power in a 1989 coup— also said that he will postpone pushing for constitutional amendments that would allow him to seek a third term in office.
Facing genocide charges, al-Bashir's rule has been rocked by civil wars and increasing street demonstrations. A heavy security crackdown has left scores of protesters dead. At least 57 people have been killed since December.
"Our country is passing through a difficult and complicated phase in our national history," al-Bashir said in a speech aired live from the presidential palace in Khartoum. "We will get out of it stronger and more united and determined."
In a rare acknowledgment, al-Bashir described the demands of the protesters as "legitimate" but said there are attempts to exploit the youth protests "to take the country to the unknown."
The state of emergency will give the security forces a free hand in cracking down on protesters and carrying out detentions, and places heavier restrictions on the press and opposition parties.
The announcements were instantly met with street demonstrations, demanding the longtime president to step down. Witnesses said riot police fired tear gas and arrested a number of protesters.
Sudan has been gripped by nationwide protests since Dec. 19. The demonstrations, which show no sign of abating, were triggered by rising prices and shortages but quickly turned to calls for al-Bashir to step down.
Al-Bashir's term ends in 2020 and he has repeatedly promised over the years not to make new runs for the presidency. Without amending the constitutions, he can't run for a third term.
His announcement came days after a parliamentary committee tasked with amending the constitution to scrap presidential term limit canceled its meetings.
The Sudanese Professional Association, which is spearheading the country's demonstrations, warned of any measures that could "turn against" the demands of the Sudanese people, and vowed that it will respond with more escalation in street protests.
"The demands of this revolution are crystal clear," the statement said, "the regime and its head must step down."
However, al-Bashir warned the opposition of the "zero-sum" game that creates chaos, pointing to a wave of the Arab Spring uprisings that led to civil wars in countries like Libya and Yemen.
As he was speaking in the presidential palace in Khartoum and in other districts, dozens of protesters were already taking to the streets chanting, "just fall."
Shelving intentions to amend the constitution to pave the way for a third term in office appeared to be the only political concession al-Bashir has made so far after two months of nonstop demonstrations.
"What al-Bashir presented are tactics to keep his regime alive," said the leader of Umma Party, Mubarak al-Mahdi. "Declaring a state of emergency means suppressing freedom of expression and demonstration and tightening grip on the revolution."
Sudan's main opposition groups call for a four-year transitional government followed by elections.