With the vote for the presidency of Africa’s most populous nation ending, Nigerian officials are preparing to announce which of the two main candidates, the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, won Saturday’s election.
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, will declare results for each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, including Abuja, before announcing the overall winner - a process that could take around 48 hours.
To win, a candidate must get the majority of votes and at least 25% in two-thirds of the states. If none of them achieve that, there’ll be a second round. Analysts were more or less split down the middle over who would win.
Buhari, a 76-year-old ex-general going for a second and final four-year term, and Abubakar, 72, a business tycoon and former vice president, are both Muslims from the north. Buhari will probably win the region. Abubakar is expected to dominate in the south-east and south-south, two of Nigeria’s six so-called geopolitical zones, where Buhari has long been unpopular. The south-west, which includes the commercial capital of Lagos, and the north-central zones could be crucial swing areas.
Almost 73 million people were eligible to vote, according to INEC. Turnout during the last election was 44%. If that’s repeated this time, the number of voters will be closer to 30 or 35 million in the nation of almost 200 million people.
Here’s what to watch for as the results come in to get a sense of who’s leading.
This region contains 18 million potential voters, more than any other. Buhari hails from there and won 84% support in 2015, according to INEC data. He’ll be hard-pressed to do so well this time, given that some current and former northwestern state governors have turned against him. Moreover, he’s now up against a northerner, unlike in 2015, when he beat former President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south.
Kano state, which will probably have the highest number of voters nationwide, will be crucial. Senate President Bukola Saraki, an opposition politician, said in an interview last week that Buhari’s share of the vote in the region could drop to around 60%. "He can’t win if he’s pulling these kinds of numbers in his base," Saraki said.
Abubakar’s expected to lose here. But he’s confident he can cut Buhari’s support, which was just below 80% at the last election. Adamawa state will be one to watch. If it swings to Abubakar, who’s from there, it may be a signal that Buhari’s grip on the north is no longer ironclad. Abubakar lost at the polling station where he voted.
The region’s borne the brunt of clashes between farmers and herders that killed around 2,000 people last year, according to Amnesty International. That could dent the prospects of Buhari, who won 59% of the votes in 2015. Niger state will be important. Buhari triumphed there four years ago. But Ibrahim Babangida, a former Nigerian military ruler who now holds plenty of sway over Niger politics, opposes him.
This was the closest-fought zone in 2015 and whoever gets it will again be in prime position to take the presidency. Lagos is key. While the state tends to have a low turnout, its population of about 20 million means it carries plenty of weight. Buhari’s All Progressives Congress is desperate to retain control of Lagos and its neighboring states, given they account for a large chunk of gross domestic product. But their businesses and populations have been hit hard by the economy’s slump since oil prices crashed in 2014, meaning they could swing to Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party.
South-East and South-South:
Here, it’s not a question of whether Abubakar wins, but by how much. Jonathan got more than 90% of the votes four years ago. Turnout will be vital for the PDP. If voting numbers are high, that will probably be a blow to Buhari.