Buhari party wins majority of Nigeria states in regional vote

Ben Simon with Joel Olatunde Agoi in Port Harcourt and Aminu Abubakar in Kano
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People celebrate after results of the gubernatorial and parliamentarian elections in Lagos, Nigeria, on April 11, 2015

People celebrate after results of the gubernatorial and parliamentarian elections in Lagos, Nigeria, on April 11, 2015 (AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

Lagos (AFP) - The party of Nigeria's president-elect Muhammadu Buhari has won governorship elections in a majority of the country's 36 states, building its strength nationwide after a historic presidential win, official results on Monday showed.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) held at least 21 governor's seats following Saturday's regional polls but could add to that tally with results from a handful of states still pending.

President Goodluck Jonathan's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had controlled the federal and most state governments since the end of military rule in 1999 but has suffered sweeping losses in the ongoing election cycle.

Jonathan's loss to Buhari in the presidential vote two weeks ago was the first ever democratic change of power at the federal level since Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) described the regional vote as "relatively peaceful" while lamenting 66 separate incidents of violence surrounding the polls.

Governors are influential figures in Nigeria, with near-total control of their states and collective power at a national level to bolster or check the presidency.

The 72-year-old Buhari will be sworn in on May 29 and his administration will benefit from having a majority of loyalist governors, including in the economic capital Lagos, where the APC was re-elected after a tough PDP challenge.

- Huge defeat in north -

The PDP was almost wiped out in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, Buhari's home region.

The governor of northeast Gombe state, Ibrahim Dankwambo, was the only PDP candidate elected in the region hit hard by Boko Haram's Islamist uprising.

Jonathan, a southern Christian, faced pressure to stand aside before the presidential vote in favour of a PDP northern governor.

But he insisted on running again, a decision that experts believe fuelled the APC's rise.

The PDP lost governorship elections in at least seven northern states it had previously controlled.

Jonathan's party also suffered a string of losses in the religiously divided Middle Belt region, including in states such as conflict-scarred Plateau, where Jonathan had bested Buhari in the general election.

The APC victories at the weekend further highlighted widespread frustration with corruption and insecurity after 16 years of PDP-dominated rule.

The polls also underscored the stunning rise of the APC, which was founded just two years ago in a coalition that grouped Buhari's northern base with opposition parties that had support in the south.

Taraba state in the east meanwhile attracted attention because it could appoint a female governor for the first time in Nigeria's history should the APC's Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan win.

But the state's chief electoral officer Ahmed Makamma told local television that a run-off election would be held, possibly on April 26, in some parts of the state "to determine the winner".

Figures declared so far indicated that the local PDP candidate was ahead in the race.

- Flashpoint oil hub -

So far, the only state the PDP wrested from APC control was the southern, oil-producing hub of Rivers, where tensions have been high throughout the election season.

Outgoing Rivers governor Rotimi Amaechi was elected on the PDP ticket in 2011 but defected to the APC in 2013.

The move in a state which borders Jonathan's home of Bayelsa proved costly.

Jonathan won the presidential vote in Rivers with more than 95 percent support, while Amaechi's hand-picked successor for the governor's office, Dakuku Peterside, was trounced by the PDP's Nyesom Wike, who won with 87 percent support.

There were widespread claims from the APC of PDP irregularities in voting in Rivers at the presidential election, leading to demonstrations and calls for a re-run.

INEC said the state saw the worst unrest during the regional polls, with 16 separate incidents of violence recorded.

The state's information commissioner Ibim Semenitari said of the gubernatorial result: "What happened on Saturday was a rape of democracy. There was no election in Rivers.

"The PDP in connivance with INEC (the electoral commission) and the security agencies merely wrote figures which they have churned out to the public," she told AFP.

She added: "We are going to challenge the results."

Local PDP spokesman Emmanuel Okah, however, said: "The people have spoken. We urge the APC to accept the results in good faith."