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Buhari defeats Nigeria's Jonathan in historic election

Nigerian president-elect, former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari.
Nigerian president-elect, former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari. Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP

Former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria’s presidential poll by 2.57 million votes, the country's electoral commission said Wednesday, ending Jonathan’s rule of Africa’s most populous nation.

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Three decades after seizing power in a military coup, Buhari became the first Nigerian to oust a president through the ballot box, putting him in charge of Africa’s biggest economy and one of its most turbulent democracies.

The Independent National Electoral Commission said the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate won 15,424,921 votes, or 53.95 percent of the 28,587,564 total valid votes cast.

Jonathan, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), won 12,853,162 (44.96 percent).

As the scale of this weekend’s electoral landslide became clear, Jonathan called Buhari on Tuesday to concede defeat to the opposition leader, an unprecedented step that should help to defuse anger among Jonathan’s supporters.

"President Jonathan called General Muhammadu Buhari, the winner of the elections, to congratulate him,” said APC spokesman Lai Mohammed.

The announcement followed more than 48 hours of results tallying after two days of voting over the weekend.

Jonathan’s quick concession could help alleviate fears of a repeat of post-election violence that saw 1,000 killed after Jonathan defeated Buhari in 2011.

“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,” Mohammed added.

“Anyone who tries to foment trouble on the account that they have lost the election will be doing so purely on his own.”

As vote counts rolled in and Buhari’s victory looked ever more assured, thousands of people spilled into the streets of northern Nigeria's biggest city Kano to celebrate.

A cavalcade of motorbikes and cars with their headlights on and horns blaring paraded through the streets of the ancient seat of learning and Nigeria's commercial hub, which is also one of Buhari’s biggest support bases.

Long road back

For Buhari, 72, it has been a long road back to the pinnacle of Nigerian politics. A former army general, Buhari overthrew president Shehu Shagari – widely seen as inept and corrupt – in a military coup in 1983. As the head of a military government in the 1980s, he earned a reputation for his tough stance against nepotism and fraud.

Since then he tried, and failed, to win election in three previous presidential votes since democracy was restored in Nigeria in 1999.

His last attempt in 2011 saw him lose to Jonathan in a comprehensive defeat, securing just 32 percent of the vote to Jonathan’s 59 percent.

But voter dissatisfaction with Jonathan – whose time in office has been marked by the rise of militant Islamist group Boko Haram and allegations of failing to tackle endemic corruption in the oil-rich country – meant the vote was expected to be a much closer contest.

As in previous campaigns, Buhari placed the fight against corruption at the heart of his political platform, a tactic that appears to have paid off with voters.

He also promised to stamp out Boko Haram’s insurgency in the north, which has claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people and left some 1.5 million homeless.

Buhari has also managed to bridge the traditional ethnic and religious fault lines of Nigerian politics – typically divided between the mainly Christian south and Muslim north.

As a Muslim from the north, Buhari for the first time won states in the southwest and even took one-third of votes in a southeastern state – an unprecedented development that some say reflects voter dissatisfaction with Jonathan more than it does enthusiasm for Buhari.

His task now will be to make good on his pre-election promises: namely tackling Boko Haram and fighting corruption.

Buhari will also need to show he is capable of steering Africa’s top economy during a difficult period due largely to the tumbling price of oil, which accounts for the vast majority of Nigeria's income.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

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