LAGOS: Ruling party candidate Bola Tinubu on Wednesday was declared winner of Nigeria's fiercely disputed presidential elections, securing the former Lagos governor his life-long ambition of heading Africa's most populous democracy.

With President Muhammadu Buhari stepping down after two terms, many Nigerians hoped Saturday's vote would usher in a leader capable of tackling widening insecurity, righting the economy and easing poverty. The final results gave Tinubu, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), 8.8 million votes against 6.9 million for opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar.

The Labour Party's Peter Obi notched up 6.1 million votes, confirming his success as a surprise third candidate. The Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, confirmed Tinubu as president-elect after he also secured the required number votes across two-thirds of Nigeria's states -- a rule meant to ensure broad representation.

But the February 25 election was marked by long delays in voting and slow arrival of results that angered voters and prompted opposition parties to demand a new vote, alleging massive vote-rigging. "I appeal to my fellow contestants to let us team together. It is the only nation we have. It is one country that we must build together," Tinubu said in an acceptance speech early Wednesday.

Supporters danced to Afrobeats at the APC party campaign office in Abuja and chanted "Jagaban," a local chieftain title for Tinubu. In a congratulatory message on Twitter, Buhari described the president-elect as "the best person for the job" and urged opposition parties seek peaceful means to address their grievances over the vote.

Tinubu, 70, is a long-time political kingmaker who is a Muslim from the southern Yoruba community. He campaigned on his experience as Lagos governor from 1999 to 2007, charging ahead with the slogan "It's my turn" to govern Africa's largest economy.

But his promise of reviving hope was attacked by rivals, who questioned his health, past graft accusations and ties to Buhari, criticised for failing in his vow to make Nigeria safer. Mixed reactions greeted his election victory on Wednesday.

In Lagos, Tinubu's home turf, the streets were calm, with the usual traffic flowing, while businesses were open after the long wait for the results. "Tinubu might be old... he is the best to govern, because he is very open-minded and will promote unity between north and south," said Abiola Adesina, a 47-year-old driver.

But other younger voters were angry, expressing concerns over how INEC managed the tallies. "The INEC chairman has failed to make the results transparent.. Nobody is happy... we are definitely going to court. Tinubu can't be the president," said Orisa Omega, 23, an Abuja student.

 Tight race

The election was a tight race for the first time since Nigeria ended military rule in 1999, after Obi, 61, drew younger voters with a message of change. He scored a major victory in Lagos, the state with the largest number of registered voters and Tinubu's traditional bastion. Abubakar, a 76-year-old businessman and former vice president, lost his sixth attempt at the presidency.

Saturday's voting was mostly peaceful, but was troubled by long delays at many polling stations and some intimidation by thugs. Technical hitches disrupted the uploading of results to INEC's central website, fuelling concerns over vote rigging. "The election is irretrievably compromised," Labour Party chairman Julius Abure told reporters on Tuesday. "We demand that this sham of an election should be immediately cancelled."


INEC introduced biometric voter identification technology for the first time at the national level and its IReV central database for uploading results to improve transparency. But opposition parties said failures in the system to upload tallies allowed for ballot manipulation and disparities in the results from the manual counts at local polling stations.

Nigerian elections have often been marred by vote-rigging, ballot buying, violence and clashes between rival parties. INEC dismissed opposition allegations. "Contrary to the insinuation by both parties, results emanating from the States point to a free, fair and credible process," INEC said.

It said parties should allow the process to run its course and then take their claims to court. But international observers, including from the European Union, noted major logistical problems, disenfranchised voters and a lack of transparency by INEC. The expectations facing Nigeria's next leader are huge, and they start with the country's security crisis. - AFP