News Africa

Thursday 22 February 2018

‘Victory for democracy’ as Nigerians elect new leader

Over-excited motor-cycling supporters of the presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari collide with another supporter during celebrations in Kano yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Over-excited motor-cycling supporters of the presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari collide with another supporter during celebrations in Kano yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Colin Freeman

Nigeria’s former military dictator Mohammadu Buhari declared himself his country’s new leader last night after building up a substantial lead in the vote count from Saturday’s presidential elections.

While the final results were still being tallied, aides to Mr Buhari claimed victory over incumbent Goodluck Jonathan after establishing a lead of around 1.5 million votes out of 22 million votes already counted.

Results were still due in from seven of the country’s 36 states, but it appeared unlikely that Mr Jonathan could make up the lost ground.

A defeat for Mr Jonathan would be the first time in Nigeria’s brief democracy that a sitting president has not won a second term or handed power to a nominated successor.


“This is the first time in Nigeria that a sitting government will be voted out of power using purely democratic means,” said Lai Mohammed, the senior spokesman for Mr Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party. “The people of Nigeria have taken over.”

Mr Buhari (72), who ruled with an iron fist in the 1980s, had challenged Mr Jonathan over his record on fighting corruption and dealing with the Boko Haram insurgents who have killed an estimated 10,000 people across the country.

While Mr Jonathan has made some significant military gains over Boko Haram in recent weeks, it appears to have been too little and too late to convince voters, who gave his opponent bigger-than-expected majorities in many northern areas affected by the insurgency.

In a contest that saw the two candidates at level-pegging in the run-up to the elections, Mr Buhari also took the city of Lagos, Nigeria’s major commercial hub and home to an estimated 20 million people.

Mr Jonathan was punished by low turn-outs in many of his own heartlands in Nigeria’s Christian south, where Mr Buhari took up to a third of the vote in some areas.

The winning candidate must take more than half of all votes and at least 25pc of votes in two-thirds of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory at Abuja, the capital.

“People are voting for Buhari because of allegations of corruption in the Goodluck government, and also the insurgency,” said Tahir Sherriff, a Nigerian political analyst. “There is the whole idea that people want to tell their rulers that they can’t be non-performing and expert to remain in office.”

Roughly 60 million of Nigeria’s estimated 170 million people were eligible to vote in the elections, the biggest democratic contest in Africa. Most will see the outcome as a verdict on Mr Jonathan’s lacklustre presidency, which was exemplified on the international stage by his tardy response to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the north-eastern town of Chibok last April. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

Boko Haram had vowed to disrupt the vote in northern regions, and killed more than 40 people in random gun attacks during polling days. But overall, what was a formidably large and complex voting process went relatively smoothly.

In Washington officials had warned of “disturbing indications” that the final vote count was being rigged, although they said it had not been “systemic” in favour of any particular party.  (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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