* Close contest between President Buhari and rival Atiku
* Atiku’s party rejects early results, Buhari’s backs outcome
* Death toll from election day violence rises to 47 (Adds details)
By Alexis Akwagyiram and Paul Carsten
ABUJA, Feb 26 (Reuters) – President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday took an unassailable lead in Nigeria’s election race, a tally by Reuters based on official and provisional results showed.
The results showed that Buhari’s main rival, businessman and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, could no longer catch up.
The main opposition party demanded an immediate halt to the ongoing release of results by the electoral commission until data on voters who took part was made available to all the competing parties.
Atiku’s party has rejected the tallies so far as “incorrect and unacceptable”. Buhari’s party said the opposition was trying to discredit the returns from Saturday’s election.
A tally by Reuters based on electoral commission and provisional results announced in state capitals, but not yet confirmed by the election commission, indicated that Buhari had a commanding lead of 57 percent to 40 percent over Atiku.
The candidate with the most votes nationwide is declared winner as long as they have at least one-quarter of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital, otherwise there is a run-off.
Buhari has already secured enough votes to avoid a run-off vote, the Reuters tally showed.
Observers from the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the United Nations appealed to parties to wait for the results, expected later this week, before filing complaints.
Buhari, 76, is a former military ruler who took office in 2015 and sought a second term with pledges to fight corruption while overhauling the country’s creaking road and rail network.
Atiku, 72, had said he would aim to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025, privatise the state oil company and expand the role of the private sector if voted into office.
Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer and biggest economy but it is struggling to emerge from a 2016 recession. It has also failed to quell a decade-old Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of people in the northeast, many of them civilians – an issue that figured in election campaigning.
Voting took place on Saturday after a week-long delay which the election commission said was due to its inability to get ballot papers and result sheets to all parts of the country.
The event – Africa’s largest democratic exercise – has also been marred by violence in which 47 people have been killed since Saturday, according to the Situation Room, a monitoring organisation linking various civic groups.
Some of the deaths took place about after gangs allied to either of the leading parties clashed with each other and police over theft of ballot boxes and vote fraud. Police have not yet provided casualty figures.
More than 260 people have been killed in total since the start of the election campaign in October. The toll is lower than in previous elections, but in the past the worst unrest broke out after results were announced.
On the streets of Abuja, people had a mixed reaction to the way the election unfolded in a country where six decades of independence have been marked by long periods of military rule, coups and secessionist wars.
Mary Erondu, a civil servant, said she did not believe the election had been free and fair.
“I have to tell you the truth. Paying money for election, these people entering yard to yard, ollect their names, collect their phone number. They will give them money and I am not lying.” she said, without saying which party was doing this.
But businessman Silas Igbo took a conciliatory view.
“We have seen the results, and Nigerians have no other option than to accept the results for peace to reign, because we know very well that the INEC has done what they needed to do and for the sake of posterity.”
Additional reporting by James Macharia and Camillus Eboh
Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram and James Macharia; Editing by