Sixteen years after the end of military rule, Nigeria has done something it’s never done before: vote out a sitting president.
Retired former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari defeated incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, leading by more than 2 million votes in 33 of the 36 states as results came in, according to official results from the Independent National Electoral Commission. With just a few states left to go it became obvious Jonathan could no longer win and he conceded defeat with a phone call to Buhari.
Most analysts and local and international media outlets had projected a Buhari win early on Tuesday after major swings in some states like Kogi and several southwestern states, where Buhari had failed to make inroads in three previous presidential runs.
The election was always expected to be tight in part because of the size of the swing required from Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has been in power since 1999. Buhari’s All Progressive Congress was a coalition of several parties with strengths in various regions of the country, creating a truly national rival to PDP that crossed ethnic and religious divides.
Buhari, a military ruler for 20 months between 1984 to 1985, is a northern Muslim who has promised to eradicate the rampant corruption that has characterized Jonathan’s rule, and right the economy. As a former army general, he is well-positioned to reform the military, which has failed to quell the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast.
But Buhari’s military background is also a political weakness; he has had to overcome a negative image as the ruthless dictator who in 1983 overthrew a democratically elected government, repressed the press, jailed former leaders without trial, and violently disciplined civilians in public. Buhari’s campaign cast this as strong leadership, in contrast to weak and ineffective leadership by Jonathan. Buhari effectively apologized, while his campaign played to Nigeria’s young voting population, many of whom weren’t born until after his rule.
Jonathan, a former zoology professor from Nigeria’s oil-producing Bayelsa State, who came to power in 2010 from the office of vice president, is still holding out hope of big wins in the last few states. But those hopes began to fade after Buhari took Lagos State, the country’s most populous state.