By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic party (PDP) won a governorship election in the northern state of Adamawa, despite fierce criticism over the party's handling of an insurgency in the north.
Incumbent Governor Murtala Nyako won 44 percent of the vote to beat his closest opposition rival, Markus Gundiri, who got 35 percent, the electoral commission said.
Gundiri, of the increasingly popular opposition Action Congress Nigeria (ACN) party, had been expected to win, partly because President Goodluck Jonathan's popularity has sunk as violence in the north mounts.
Jonathan was also forced to row back on scrapping motor fuel subsidies last month after massive protests and strikes crippled Africa's most populous nation.
The governors of Nigeria's 36 states are among the most powerful politicians in the nation, in some cases controlling bigger budgets than whole African countries.
The election in the Adamawa state was held after the Supreme Court last month removed Nyako and four other governors from office, because their tenures should have expired last year.
The governors of Bayelsa, Cross Rivers and Sokoto, whose seats were also annulled by the court order, are planning to recontest them this year, and remain out of office until they do.
The fifth governor to be removed, in the state of Kogi, was reinstated immediately on a technicality.
Attacks by Islamist sect Boko Haram have surged in the north this year, including some high profile bomb and gun attacks on churches and security forces.
At least 21 people were killed in attacks by gunmen in Adamawa's town of Mubi last month that targeted its Christian minority at church gatherings.
The attacks forced hundreds of Christians from the Igbo ethnic group, the main targets, to flee back to their southeastern ethnic homeland.
The Boko Haram sect, loosely modeled on the Taliban, began its uprising in northeastern Borno state in 2009 in what it said was a bid to introduce sharia law across the country of 160 million people, evenly split between Muslims and Christians.
It has since spread to several northern states, including Adamawa, which borders Borno.
(Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)