(Adds death toll since campaigns began, details)
ABUJA, Feb 25 (Reuters) – Nigeria’s election took place in a generally peaceful environment, the head of the African Union observer mission said on Monday, in his first public comments about the delayed presidential poll on Saturday.
Analysts say the presidential election pitting President Muhammadu Buhari against businessman and former vice president Atiku Abubakar will be Nigeria’s tightest since the end of military rule in 1999.
At stake is the leadership of Africa’s top oil producer, a country with the continent’s biggest economy whose decade-long battle with Islamist militants concentrated in the northeast makes it central to regional stability.
Early results were expected to trickle in on Monday, but it was unclear when a winner would be declared.
A credible and relatively calm poll would open a new chapter in the chequered political history of Nigeria, where nearly six decades of independence have been tarnished by military coups, endemic corruption and secessionist movements.
“The 2019 elections took place in a generally peaceful environment,” said AU observer mission head Hailemariam Desalegn, the former prime minister of Ethiopia.
As many as 39 people have been killed in election violence, civil society groups said on Sunday.
The Situation Room – which represents more than 70 civil society groups – reported 39 deaths after Saturday’s vote.
In previous elections, the death toll has been higher, but most unrest typically occurs after results are announced.
“Since beginning of campaigns in Oct 2018, more than 260 politically motivated deaths,” Clement Nwankwo, convener of the Situation Room, which had 9,000 observers, told reporters. (Repoorting by Alexis Akwagyiram and Paul Carsten Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Janet Lawrence)