New Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari tells nation it's 'time to heal wounds'
Published 01/04/2015 | 15:37
Former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari has said it was time "to heal wounds", a day after Nigeria's president conceded defeat in a bitterly fought election.
Calling for conciliation across the political divide, Mr Buhari said Nigerians have put a one-party state behind them and embraced democracy.
"We have voted for a president and a government that will serve and govern but never rule over you," he said. "Change has come. A new day and a new Nigeria are open to us . The victory is yours."
Mr Buhari, 72, said Nigerians showed they can bring about peaceful change through the ballot box.
When Mr Buhari is sworn in on May 29 it will be the first time in Nigeria's history that an opposition party has democratically taken control of the country from the ruling party - considered a sign of the West African nation's maturing young democracy.
President Goodluck Jonathan's party has governed since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999.
Mr Jonathan conceded with grace late yesterday, saying "I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word."
He urged aggrieved colleagues in his People's Democratic Party (PDP) to turn to the courts. "Today, the PDP should be celebrating rather than mourning. We have established a legacy of democratic freedom, transparency, economic growth and free and fair elections."
Mr Buhari was the sole candidate of a coalition of the major political parties that formed two years ago and transformed Nigeria's political landscape by offering the first real challenge to the governing party that has been in power since 1999 in Africa's richest and most populous
Results from Saturday's election show Mr Buhari winning votes across religious, tribal lines and geopolitical lines.
Because of decades of military rule - Mr Buhari himself was made military ruler of Nigeria after a December 31, 1983 coup - this is only the eighth election in Nigeria's history and the fifth since democracy was restored in 1999.
"You voted for change and now change has come," said Mr Buhari, who describes himself as a convert to democracy.
"Your vote affirms that you believe Nigeria's future can be better than what it is today." He was addressing supporters at his party secretariat in Abuja, the capital, about 6am.
Mr Buhari's victory was fuelled by popular anger over an Islamic insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.
Outside Mr Buhari's party headquarters in Abuja overnight, women chanted songs and used grass brooms to elaborately sweep the way ahead of arriving dignitaries in flamboyant robes.
The traditional broom is the sign of Mr Buhari's campaign pledge to sweep out the corruption endemic in Nigeria.
"This election is not about Mr Buhari or Mr Jonathan, it's about Nigeria, it's about freedom, it's about change, it's about unity," Aisha Birma said, adding that Jonathan lost because he failed to provide security for Nigerians.
"What we have gone through, the Boko Haram insurgency for the past six years in Borno. ... You, Jonathan, were responsible for our lives and property. When you don't protect our lives and property, you can't talk about infrastructure, education... Security is paramount," she said.
Mr Jonathan's concession has defused tensions and fears of post-election violence. Some 1,000 people died and 65,000 were made homeless in riots in the Muslim north after Mr Buhari lost to Mr Jonathan in 2011.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Nigerian civil societies said discrepancies in election tallies suggest the turnout was inflated in defeated Mr Jonathan's southern strongholds.
The differences do not invalidate the victory of Mr Buhari but should be investigated before April elections for state governors, the Transition Monitoring Group said.
The group's count has Buhari winning 59.4pc of votes, instead of the official 53.9pc, to 39.2pc for Jonathan, instead of the official 45pc.
Some 40.6pc of voters turned out in Nigeria's south-south zone compared to an official 55.9pc, said the group that includes more than 400 civil society groups and which has monitored every election since 1999.
The south includes populous, oil-rich states like Rivers, which remains under curfew after opposition protests and the bombing of an electoral commission office. Two opposition supporters and a soldier were gunned down there on election day.
The Independent National Electoral Commission said it is investigating a slew of complaints about the election in Rivers state, including that officials from Mr Jonathan's government and party substituted polling officials and that official results sheets went missing. Mr Jonathan's campaign has denied any wrongdoing.
The alleged rigging affected five southern states and apparently occurred between the count at polling stations, which their agents monitored, and collation at ward and then local government levels before results were sent for the final tally in Abuja, the capital, Lazarus Apir, the monitoring group's programme manager, told The Associated Press.
Observers' reports from 2011 elections indicated votes for Mr Jonathan were inflated by some 2 million in the south, but nothing was done because it did not affect the outcome.
"If they (electoral officials) don't weigh in on this now, someone may be able to repeat that same manipulation during the governorship elections" in April, Mr Lazarus said.