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Nigeria Reacts to a Historic Change as President-Elect Buhari Prepares for Power

Some Nigerians celebrated, while others conceded defeat after Muhammadu Buhari claimed victory in the country's presidential election. But all talked of "change" in the months ahead.
April 1, 2015, 5:36pm
Photo by Jerome Delay/AP

The results were not yet in and incumbent Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan had still to concede defeat when the population of Obalende, a Lagos neighborhood, flooded into the street on Tuesday evening. As men prayed outside a local mosque, other young men and women took over the main road, forcing the rush hour traffic of mini buses and tricycle taxis to a halt.

It was confirmed later on Tuesday that former military leader Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress party (APC) had won Nigeria's presidential elections, defeating President Jonathan and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) by 2.7 million votes. It was a historic victory — the first time since military rule ended 16 years ago that an incumbent president has been ousted from office.

The news was welcomed by many in Obalende. "Today I'm proud to be Nigerian. I'll continue to pray for the progress and development of our country. Nigeria is one. We are one," Christina Unagi, a 25-year old fashion designer, told VICE News. Nearby, children squeezed into a parked car chanting: "PDP, fire, APC, change."

Buhari defeated Jonathan with 14.9 million to 12.8 million votes, and the president conceded defeat to his rival in a phone call. Once victory was confirmed, Buhari stated: "A new day and a new Nigeria are upon us. The victory is yours, and the glory is that of our nation." Jonathan thanked Nigerians for the chance to run the country, adding: "I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word."

Indeed, on Wednesday, Buhari praised the outgoing president for the peaceful transfer of power and stated: "President Jonathan was a worthy opponent and I extend the hand of fellowship to him. We have proven to the world that we are people who have embraced democracy. We have put one-party state behind us."

Buhari, 72, will be formally sworn in on May 29. For him, this is a return to power, three decades after he lead a military government between 1983 and 1985. It is also the retired major general's fourth attempt at the presidency. In the 2011 election, Buhari lost to Jonathan by a large margin, but on this occasion the margins were on his side.

This time around, Buhari recorded landslide wins in the north and the northeast, gaining over 1 million votes in Kano, Kaduna, and Katsina, his home state. Successes in important north-central states gave him the victory, according to analysts.

Related: 'If Buhari returns we will all end up in jail': History hangs over Nigeria's election candidates. Read more here.

Meanwhile, the Jonathan campaign failed to get the votes it needed in the south and the southeast of the country. Lagos, Nigeria's financial hub in the southwest with 18 million inhabitants, went to Buhari and the APC. So did Abuja, the capital city, and states in the northeast, where Buhari has strong support. Controversy surrounded the vote in Lagos, where observers reported that vote collation was "quite disorganized" and "not dealt with in the best way." Yet Buhari also won states in the south of the country, something he has never managed to do in previous elections.

"I voted Buhari because I was tired of the failed policies of the ruling party. It's impossible to support a president who allows corruption to take place under his own roof, and keeps quiet, while the population are suffering without electrify, good roads, schools, and infrastructure," Sonate Akojenu, an interior designer, told VICE News.

The word change was on everybody's lips in Lagos as they celebrated victory, or admitted defeat. "For the first time in 16 years Nigerians choose a leadership that has guts. Jonathan lacked guts, but most importantly he lacked vision. After six years in power he has nothing to show," Anthony Inyang, a lawyer, told VICE News. "There was nothing he could do differently in the next four years that he couldn't have done in the last six years to convince me he deserved my vote," Inyang added.

Gloria Friday, a 37-year old trader, cast her vote for Jonathan and the PDP, however. "Whoever wins I hope he will make Nigeria better," she told VICE News earlier on Tuesday.

Nigeria is struggling with falling oil prices, economic stagnation, widespread corruption, and a radical Islamist insurgency in the north. The country's army, assisted by forces from neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, as well as foreign mercenaries, has pushed back Boko Haram militants that recently controlled an area the size of Belgium in the country's northeast. Yet many believe the recent push to oust the insurgents, over a decade after the group began its violent rampage, is too little too late.

"My people are dying," Musa Ismael, a 25-year old baker from Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno — the birthplace of Boko Haram — told VICE News.

Hopes are high that Buhari, a military man, will rid the region of the militants once and for all. "We know Buhari is a man of his word. He's also a retired general and he's been a leader before. He knows the problems of this country better than most," Umar Dala, a retired policeman also from Borno State, told VICE News.

Observers said the vote overall was free and fair. The exception was Rivers State where proceedings didn't meet minimal standard for a recognized election, Muhamed Bello, a local election observer told VICE News. On Sunday, APC filed an official compliant to Nigeria's national election commission (INEC) asking the organization to look into irregularities during voting in the state. Attahiru Jega, INEC chairman, stated, however, that the Rivers State election would not be canceled.

Related: Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan concedes election defeat to Muhammadu Buhari. Read more here.

The successful transfer of democratic power so far, the first in the country's history, was in part credited to the INEC chairman. During the announcement of the results in Abuja, Peter Godsday Orubebe, a former minister from the Niger Delta region, reportedly grabbed the microphone and accused the chairman of being partial and having fixed the election for Buhari. Jega was not provoked and the process continued.

As PDP supporters expressed frustration over a vote that seemingly was going in Buhari's favor in Abuja, APC supporters in downtown Lagos celebrated victory early. Johanna Andrew, a 30-year old businesswoman, said she was sure Buhari would win from the first day."I'm full of joy. I'm so happy. We asked for change, and change is what we got," she told VICE News.