Former Dictator Wins Nigerian Presidency: ‘We Have Embraced Democracy’

Olatunji Omirin/AFP/Getty Images
Olatunji Omirin/AFP/Getty Images

General Muhammadu Buhari has officially won Nigeria’s presidential elections, after running for the chief executive office in 2003, 2007, and 2011, and ruling the country as a military dictator between 1984-1985. In his acceptance speech, Buhari thanked his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, for conceding defeat peacefully and congratulated Nigerians for having, like him, “embraced democracy.”

Buhari began to take the lead as counts trickled in on early Tuesday local time, and after the announcement that he had emerged victorious in the nation’s two largest states–Kano and Lagos–few had any doubt that Buhari would win. Both his ascendance to the presidency and Jonathan’s fall mark a turning point in the history of the nation.

With the exception of one larger violent episode–an eruption of protests in southern Rivers State by supporters of Buhari prepared to hear that Jonathan had manipulated the election results in his favor–and one Boko Haram attack in Bauchi State, the elections were largely peaceful. The nation’s election commission (INEC) chose to accept the results of Rivers State despite allegations of fraud, though ultimately, they did not swing the total vote in Jonathan’s favor.

As Nigeria’s Vanguard explains, Buhari, a72-year-old retired general, had to campaign for years in multiple elections to convince Nigerians that he had truly accepted the limitations of a democratic system after governing as the head of a regime known for imprisoning individuals whom the government perceived as “undisciplined” or lazy, with little evidence. Buhari overcame rumors of health concerns during multiple elections, as well as claims in some publications that he appeared to have ties to the jihadist terror group Boko Haram. Buhari, himself a Muslim from the north of Nigeria, overcame rumors of association with Boko Haram when his convoy became yet another victim of a Boko Haram attack.

In a short acceptance speech in which he confirmed that Jonathan had called him to concede and the election results were official, Buhari commended the Nigerian people for holding a free and mostly non-violent election–one that was not thwarted by major sectarian violence or Boko Haram terrorism. “Our country has now joined the community of nations that have used the ballot box to physically change an incumbent president in a free and fair election,” he told the audience, adding that Nigerians had “proven to the world that we are a people who have embraced democracy and a people who seek a government by, for and for the people.” Speaking of both Nigerians generally and himself personally, Buhari concluded, “We have put one party state behind us.”

He also took the time to commend Jonathan for “[leading] this nation to democracy” and promising him “nothing but cooperation and understanding.”

Jonathan himself released a statement to the general public and his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), celebrating the results of the election. “I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word,” he writes, adding that “nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian.”

Few reports of outraged behavior on the part of PDP members have surfaced. The Osun Defender, a regional newspaper, has published two of them: one alleging that the party’s members have “Deserted Jonathan!!!” leaving the party headquarters empty after the vote and one quoting a former PDP official claiming he is going to move out of the country, thanks to Buhari’s victory.

Such results are unprecedented in Nigerian history. Jonathan will be the first Nigerian head of state to peacefully concede defeat in a democratic election.

The challenges facing Buhari following his election are formidable, paramount among them the continued threat of Boko Haram attacks in the north. This week, the United Nations Human Rights Commission issued a new call to work together to stop the threat. UNHCR head Zeid Raad al-Hussein described the”despicable and wanton carnage” committed by the group, now an official subsidiary of the Islamic State, including the use of children as “cannon fodder” and the regular murders of their “so-called ‘wives’ – in fact, women and girls held in slavery.” The UN has declared that Boko Haram’s attacks could amount to crimes against humanity.


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