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Ex-military leader wins Nigeria election

April 1, 2015

A former military dictator has won Nigeria's presidential election. Standing on an anti-corruption ticket, Muhammadu Buhari swept to power with over two million more votes than the incumbent president.

Nigeria Abuja Mohammadu Buhari Anhänger Jubel
Image: picture-alliance/AP/J. Delay

Muhammadu Buhari won Nigeria's presidential election by 2.57 million votes, official results showed Wednesday. He defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria's first democratic change of power.

"President Jonathan was a worthy opponent and I extend the hand of fellowship to him," Buhari said. "We have proven to the world that we are people who have embraced democracy. We have put one-party state behind us."

Jonathan conceded defeat to Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, paving the way for an unprecedented peaceful transfer of power.

"Nobody's ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian," Jonathan said in a statement. "I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word."

With results from all of Nigeria’s 36 states counted, the 72-year-old Buhari took nearly 55 percent of the vote to Jonathan’s 45 percent with a lead of 2.57 million votes.

Buhari, who is a Muslim, won his northern strongholds as expected, but he also won Lagos state, Nigeria's commercial hub with the largest number of voters, although fewer than one-third of those registered took part. He also took other closely-contested states in the country's southwest.

It was Buhari's fourth attempt to become president and this time he was supported by the formation of a coalition of major opposition parties. Its choice of Buhari as a single candidate presented the first real opportunity in the history of Nigeria to defeat a sitting president democratically.

Due to decades of military dictatorship, last weekend's vote was only the eighth election since the country obtained independence from Britain in 1960, and the fifth since democracy was restored in 1999.

In December 1983, serving in the Nigerian army as a major-general, Buhari was one of the leaders of a coup that overthrew the elected government - accusing it of corruption.

He was appointed head of state and under his watch 475 politicians and businessmen were arrested on corruption charges. He is also remembered in Britain because of the attempt to kidnap Umaru Dikko, a corrupt former minister who had fled to London. The attempt involved Israeli agents, a packing case to transport Dikko and drugs.

Another military coup in August 1985 removed Buhari from power.

Buhari's supporters turned out on to the streets to celebrate his win on Tuesday. They waved brooms, the symbol of his All Progressives Congress (APC) party, as an expression of his pledge to sweep away years of government waste and corruption.

Government record

Along with allegations of corruption, Jonathan was also held to be ineffectual in the battle against Boko Haram, the terror group operating in the north of the country. Buhari accused Jonathan of a failure of leadership in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency, which has left more than 13,000 people dead and some 1.5 million people homeless over six years.

"Boko Haram was a factor both as a security threat to Nigeria, but also because it became emblematic of a broader failure of the incumbent administration. It became the icon of its shortcomings," according to the director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, J. Peter Pham.

In the past six weeks, with intervention by troops from neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger, Boko Haram has been driven out of some areas. More security measures are expected from the new government.

Ending grace

Jonathan's concession brought him praise, including from the winning party: "There had always been this fear that he might not want to concede, but he will remain a hero for this move. The tension will go down dramatically," APC spokesman Lai Mohammed said.

In the 2011 election, more than 800 people were killed in protests after Buhari lost the election to Jonathan. Ahead of this election the two men signed a pledge calling for non-violence in a bid to prevent a repeat of four years ago.

"I thank all Nigerians once again for the great opportunity I was given to lead this country and assure you that I will continue to do my best at the helm of national affairs until the end of my tenure," Jonathan said in a statement.

jm/bk (Reuters, AP, AFP)