Nigerian is switching from an incumbent to a former military dictator, from a Christian president to a Muslim president, as the country is embroiled in a critical phase of fighting Boko Haram, which recently declared allegiance to ISIS.
President Goodluck Jonathan, 57, conceded defeat to retired major general Muhammadu Buhari, 72, whose APC party got more than 2.5 million more votes than the incumbent’s PDP party. According to vote counts from the APC, Buhari trounced Jonathan in Borno state, where Boko Haram has been running wild and infamously kidnapped the Chibok schoolgirls who have not been found.
“I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word. I have also expanded the space for Nigerians to participate in the democratic process. That is one legacy I will like to see endure,” Jonathan said in his concession.
“Although some people have expressed mixed feelings about the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), I urge those who may feel aggrieved to follow due process based on our constitution and our electoral laws, in seeking redress,” he said. “As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.”
Buhari, who originally ascended to power in a 1983 coup, called Jonathan “a worthy opponent.”
“Most people will welcome the result because it is the one they voted for. Others will literally be disappointed. I ask that we all be circumspect, respectful and peaceful in these times. This was a hard-fought contest. Emotions were high. We must not allow them to get the better of us,” Buhari said in his victory speech. “…Change has come and a new day and a new Nigeria is upon us.”
A 2012 Pew survey showed Christianity edging out the country’s Muslim population, 49.3 percent to 48.8 percent. Jonathan left the door open to a challenger, though, with the ineffectiveness of the government’s campaign against Boko Haram.
“President-elect Buhari made some bold commitments during his campaign, including to root out Nigeria’s rampant corruption,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said. “He should stay true to his political pledges.”
President Obama issued a statement today thanking Jonathan “for his many years of service and his statesmanlike conduct at this critical juncture.”
“I urge President-Elect Buhari and President Jonathan to repeat their calls to their supporters to continue to respect the election outcomes, focus on unifying the country, and together lead Nigeria through a peaceful transition,” Obama said. “…On behalf of the American people, I extend congratulations to the people of Nigeria and to President-Elect Buhari and look forward to continuing to work with the newly-elected government on our many shared priorities.”
While the White House was criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for visiting Washington close to elections, the administration sent Secretary of State John Kerry to Nigeria to meet with the two main candidates in the run-up to elections.
In January, he put conditions on U.S. aid to fight Boko Haram tied to “the full measure of credibility, accountability, transparency and peacefulness of this election.”
“And one of the principle reasons that President Obama asked me to come here at this moment is to reinforce to all Nigerians the desire of the United States to be able to engage even more so in the effort to push back against Boko Haram or any other violent extremist group, but the quality of the democratic process is important to contributing to our ability to do so.”