Nigeria election: Bola Tinubu leads tightest race since end of military rule, but outcome hard to predict

Electoral commission refutes allegations of lack of transparency levelled by main opposition parties

Ruling party candidate Bola Tinubu was in pole position on Monday night as results continued to be announced in Nigeria’s tightest presidential election since military rule ended in 1999, but the outcome remained in the balance.

The country’s two main opposition parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party – walked out of the venue where results were being announced in protest at what they said was a lack of transparency – an allegation denied by Nigeria’s electoral commission.

In total, 18 candidates ran for president in Saturday’s poll. There were three clear front-runners: Mr Tinubu (70) of the ruling All Progressives Congress; Atiku Abubakar (76), from the main opposition People’s Democratic Party; and Peter Obi (61), a surprise third lead candidate representing the Labour Party.

Mr Tinubu was ahead on Monday evening, with Mr Abubakar in second place and Mr Obi in third, though the final result remained unpredictable.


Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy. The west African country has more than 200 million citizens, more than 93 million of whom were registered to vote.

The next president will have to deal with a range of issues, including growing insecurity. A nearly 14-year-old Islamist insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast has forced millions of people away from their homes, while a banditry and kidnapping epidemic in the northwest and north-central has displaced more than a million. The country’s southeast has also been experiencing a wave of violence by armed gangs and suspected separatists.

Nigeria, which is expected to have the world’s third largest population by the middle of this century, also has high levels of unemployment. Some 70 per cent of its population are under the age of 30.

As well as requiring the most votes overall, the winner needs at least a quarter of all ballots cast in 25 of Nigeria’s 36 states. If this is not achieved, there is likely to be a run-off within three weeks.

Voting on Saturday was hampered by delays and attacks on polling stations. In some parts of the country, people ended up casting a ballot on Sunday instead.

The EU election observation mission released a preliminary statement on Monday, saying the elections were kept on schedule “despite a volatile and challenging environment”, but that the “lack of transparency and operational failures reduced trust in the process and challenged the right to vote”. It said there were “widespread allegations of vote buying”, and that fuel shortages and problems accessing cash following a botched currency change had also presented challenges.

Last week, outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari tweeted calling for peace.

“Let me remind all Nigerians, not for the first time, that this is the only country we have, and we must do everything to keep it safe, united and peaceful,” he said. “There should be no riots or acts of violence after the announcement of the election results. All grievances, personal or institutional, should be channelled to the relevant courts.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa