Abuja: In what signals a possible change of the government for Nigerians, early election results show former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari leading ahead of the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan by a wide margin.
With votes from over half of the Nigerian states counted, Gen Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) was said to have notched up 8,520,436 votes, while Jonathan's People's Democratic Party (PDP) languished at a mark of 6,488,210 votes.
The election results' announcement by Nigeria's election commission (Inec) was suspended on Monday midnight after the ballots were counted for 18 states and the capital Abuja.
Further results will be announced again on Tuesday.
However, these partial results should not be considered as a sure indication of Buhari's win as more states - including Lagos - which has the biggest number of voters of any state and where Jonathan is popular, have not been counted as yet.
It's the first time in Nigeria's history that a challenger has a real chance of defeating a sitting president. This is only the eighth election since independence from Britain in 1960.
Buhari swept the northern states of Kano and Kaduna, as expected, but delivered unexpectedly crushing defeats to Jonathan. In Kano, the state with the second-largest number of voters, Buhari won 1.9 million votes to Jonathan's 216,000. In Kaduna, Buhari won 1.1 million votes to Jonathan's 484,000.
Turnout was high Saturday among the nearly 60 million people eligible to vote in the high-stakes election, which took place despite a campaign of violence by the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.
Jonathan and Buhari are the front-runners among 14 candidates for president.
The National Human Rights Commission said 50 people were killed during the balloting, including a state legislator, a soldier and two electoral workers.
Nevertheless, commission chairman Chidi Odinkalu said the election showed "a maturing political system."
"The best guarantee of a violence-free election is a credible count and collation," Odinkalu said in a statement.
Relatively smooth voting was reported in this nation of 170 million people despite technical glitches, deadly attacks by Boko Haram, and allegations of political violence and threats in some areas. There was still concern, however, that the announcement of the results could trigger violence.
After Buhari lost to Jonathan in 2011, more than 1,000 people died and some 65,000 were forced from their homes in northern riots, according to the National Human Rights Commission.
With Agency Inputs