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Muhammadu Buhari speaking at a campaign rally
Image: AFP/Getty Images/P. Utomi Ekpei

Muhammadu Buhari: Nigeria's new president

Jan-Philipp Scholz, Adrian Kriesch / sh
May 28, 2015

Once a military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari is the new president of Africa's biggest economy. Buhari was the strongest rival of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and he is very popular in the north.


A former general, incorruptible and a stickler for discipline – that is how many northern Nigerians see Buhari. After completing his military training, the 72-year-old quickly rose up the hierarchy. Military rulers gave him lucrative political posts. He was regarded as a devout Muslim who supported the introduction of Islamic sharia law in the north. Following a coup against an elected government, Buhari led the country from January 1984 until August 1985. He proclaimed a "war against lack of discipline." During his rule, almost 500 people were jailed for corruption and wasting taxpayers' money. State employees who came to work late had to perform knee bends in penance, witnesses reported. Unlike most Nigerian politicians, Buhari did not brazenly enrich himself and still lives in a modest house to this day.

But Muhammadu Buhari also had a dark side as dictator. He had people executed, harassed the media and was deaf to calls for a transition to a democratically legitimized government. According to Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, he gave Nigerians the feeling that they were living under an inflexible regime which spread fear.

Nigeria's new president Muhammadu Buhari in Kano
Buhari sympathizers in KanoImage: DW

New system, new Buhari?

"Things have changed," said Soyinka's daughter-in-law Lola Shoneyin in an interview with DW. The author accompanied Buhari on his campaign trail. "We have our courts, we have a very active and vibrant civil society, we have the National Assembly. A lot of the things that might have been possible thirty years ago just won't be possible now," she said.

During his campaign Buhari tried to play down his controversial past. But he also profits from his image as a hardliner – especially since increasing numbers of Nigerians have the impression that outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan chose to sit out the country's problems rather than tackle them head on.

Speaking to DW after a pre-election rally in Kano, Buhari said he was concerned by the "scandalous level of unemployment" of millions of young Nigerians, the poor security situation in the country, the extent of corruption "and the lack of concern by the government for anything other than the retention of power at all costs."

Lola Shoneyin
Lola Shoneyin says things have changed since Buhari was last in powerImage: DW/J.-P. Scholz/A. Kriesch

Buhari has repeatedly said he would destroy Islamist group Boko Haram. In June 2014 his convoy was attacked in the city of Kaduna – an act that bore all the hallmarks of the terror group.

Need to retain credibility

After 2003, 2007 and 2011 in March 2015 Buhari ran for the fourth time against a president from the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP). But it was the first time that he had an almost united opposition, which greatly increased his chances. In order to win votes in the Christian-dominated south of the country, Buhari has had to join forces in his All Progressives Congress (APC) with several influential politicians who have different ideas about how to fight corruption. The burden on Buhari's shoulders is enormous.

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