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ABUJA (Reuters) - Five of Nigeria's powerful ruling party state governors, including one in the oil-producing Niger Delta, will not have to stand for re-election in polls later this month, an appeals court ruled on Friday.
Nigeria holds presidential elections on Saturday and is due to end its electoral cycle with governorship races in the 36 states on April 26, but the five argued they should be exempted as they had not yet completed full four-year terms.
The governors of Bayelsa and Cross Rivers states in the south, Kogi and Adamawa in central Nigeria and Sokoto in the north all had their 2007 election victories overturned by the courts but went on to win re-runs the following year.
They won a ruling in February preventing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from forcing fresh elections this month but the INEC appealed.
"In law, there were no elections in the five states in April 2007 ... Nobody can be validly elected in an invalid election," Justice Paul Galinje told the Appeals Court in Abuja on Friday.
"The appeal is hereby dismissed."
The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) saw its parliamentary majority reduced in legislative elections last Saturday and is likely to face a tough battle retaining its control of over two thirds of the country's states.
The court decision means it may avoid some of the fiercest state contests and bolsters its regional standing.
President Goodluck Jonathan is widely considered the front-runner in Saturday's presidential race.
The PDP candidate has won every election since the end of military rule in 1999 and is up against a divided opposition with regional rather than national support bases.
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Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Sophie Hares