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FILE PHOTO: Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari attends a reception at the closing session of the Commonwealth Business Forum at the Guildhall in London, Britain on April 18, 2017. Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's ruling party won a state governorship election this weekend after unseating the opposition incumbent, officials said, giving President Muhammadu Buhari a boost ahead of national polls next year.

Kayode Fayemi of the All Progessive Congress (APC) took almost 45 percent of the vote in southwestern Ekiti state, the electoral commission announced on Sunday.

Saturday's vote is a test of the ruling party's popularity, after the APC split last week when one faction declared it no longer supported Buhari's government and later announced it was forming an alliance with the opposition.

Fayemi, a one-time governor of Ekiti, resigned as Buhari's minister for mining and steel development to contest the race against the People's Democratic Party in a state where the incumbent, Ayodele Fayose, has been critical of the government.

As minister, Fayemi tried to revive Nigeria's mining sector and had been in discussions with the country's sovereign wealth fund to create a $500 million fund for exploration and attract investment. Some of the plans are yet to materialise.

Buhari, who plans to seek another term in office, congratulated Fayemi and the electoral body for the conduct of the vote.

Nigeria is preparing for presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections from February next year. Political parties must select their candidates for the election between Aug. 18 and Oct. 7.

Governors are among the most powerful figures in Africa's most populous nation. Some control budgets bigger than those of many African countries and play a significant role in selecting presidential candidates.

Fayemi's victory consolidates the ruling party's position in Nigeria's southwest, a key region that helped the APC, a merger of four regional parties, win the last election.

(Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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Reuters