Opposition wins in historic Nigerian election

In an unprecedented turn of events, opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari won against incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria’s presidential elections held on March 29th. This election marks the first change in the leadership’s power since democracy was established in the African country in 1999. It is also a significant victory in a country with a turbulent history of political coups, rigged, and annulled elections.

 A historic election

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has held power since Nigeria’s turn to democracy in 1999. This has led to rampant and nearly unbearable corruption at all levels of government. In the midst of tense and fraught elections, it took a coalition of four opposition parties in the All Progressives Congress (APC) to bring about the historic change in leadership.

There were fears that many powerful political and military personalities would have prevented this election from occurring if they could not ensure a Jonathan victory with a six week delay in the polls. As well, there were subsequent reports of plots to install an interim government or declaring a state of emergency to prolong Jonathan’s tenure.

Additional concerns arose over post-election violence similar to that seen during the 2011 elections, which featured the same candidates. However, before the recount was completed, Jonathan made the phone call to concede victory and congratulate Buhari in an effort to prevent violent reactions from a disputed result. In a later statement, Jonathan said, “I promised the country fair and free elections. I have kept my word.”

The elections were also a showcase of the religious sectarianism present in Nigeria: of the thirty six states in the country, Buhari won in twenty of them, particularly in the majority Muslim north, and the west, while Jonathan won in the majority Christian south, and the federal capital of Abuja. Results estimate that the APC, led by General Buhari, obtained almost 15 million votes versus the 12.8 million earned by Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party.

Although there have been some allegations of fraud, international observers have generally praised the elections.

A new leader in a critical time

Muhammadu Buhari, a retired military general, already held the presidency in Nigeria for twenty months between 1984 and 1985 after heading a coup against then President Shehu Shagari. He is known as a disciplinarian, and his former mandate was characterized by economic austerity and a fierce campaign against corruption. On the other hand, he was also attributed with several human rights violations, and imprisonment of political opponents. After his overthrow in another military-led coup, he stood for presidential elections three times in 2003, 2007, and 2011.

Buhari comes to power at a critical time for Nigeria, with the terrorist group Boko Haram a growing force in the country’s northeastern region, and the threat of a rearmament of rebels in the Niger Delta in the south. The newly elected president issued a vow against the terrorist group, saying, “In tackling insurgency, we have a tough and urgent job to do. Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will. We should spare no effort until we defeat terrorism.”

Most of Buhari’s support came from areas in the north, which have suffered from Boko Haram’s six year insurgency that has killed thousands of Nigerians and forced millions to flee.

The newly elected president, who ran on a campaign promising big social spending programs like universal healthcare, faces an added challenge with the Nigerian economy. Although the country has the largest economy in the African continent, it is currently struggling with the drop in oil prices, which account for almost 70 percent of the country’s revenues and 35 percent of its GDP. The Nigerian currency has also lost ground against the dollar due to the price drop, which hurts the country’s foreign reserves.

Buhari also faces the enormous extent of corruption in Nigeria, which reached its height with the embezzlement of 13 million euros from oil revenues in 2013, and the growing poverty in many regions of the country.

A number of analysts in the region agree that change will be slow to come to Nigeria, and that Buhari may struggle to implement all the social programs he promised during his campaign.

Photo por: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

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