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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari wins second term

The vote was announced Wednesday in an election filled with delays and outbreaks of violence.

Muhammadu Buhari speaks after being declared the winner of the Nigerian presidential elections on February 27, 2019.
Bayo Omoboriowo/Nigeria State House via AP

Muhammadu Buhari won a second term as Nigeria’s president in an election marred by delays, sporadic violence, and allegations of vote rigging.

Buhari defeated opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, a wealthy businessman and former vice president, in last Saturday’s elections. Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the final count on Wednesday, after days of vote tabulating across states. Buhari won handily, securing approximately 56 percent of the vote, compared to Atiku’s 41 percent.

After the announcement, Buhari thanked his supporters. “I am deeply humbled and profoundly grateful to you for judging me worthy of continuing to serve you and for your peaceful conduct,” he said.

But Atiku has already contested the vote, alleging that Buhari’s ruling party hacked election equipment to swing the election in the incumbent’s favor. Atiku called it a “sham” election and said he would challenge the results in court.

Fears of vote rigging had haunted the Nigerian presidential elections from the start but intensified after the INEC postponed the election one week, hours before the polls were set to open on Saturday, February 16.

Atiku, in challenging the results, claimed that there were “statistical improbabilities” that were apparent, such as high turnout in areas plagued by conflict and lower turnout in peaceful states. He also alleged that the military, deployed to keep the peace, had helped suppress the vote in certain areas.

According to the New York Times, local election observers noted some irregularities at polling stations, but international groups didn’t believe the problem to be widespread enough to undermine the final outcome. Nigerian police did arrest at least 128 people, however, for “suspected election-related offenses, including ballot box-snatching, vote-trading and impersonation,” per the Washington Post.

Low voter turnout, rather than outright election day rigging, might have played the biggest role in the election. Many observers expected the one-week delay to tamp down voter enthusiasm. Violence in some areas also likely kept voters away from the polls.

Nearly 40 people died in the violence on Saturday, with clashes concentrated in the south, but the death toll is estimated to be about 250 for all of election season, which began in October.

Buhari condemned the violence over the weekend and urged his supporters to remain calm after the verdict. In past Nigerian elections, some of the worst fighting has broken out between supporters of opposing candidates after the results were announced.

“I would like to make a special appeal to my supporters not to gloat or humiliate the opposition,” he said on Wednesday. “Victory is enough reward for your efforts.”

Nigeria gave its president a second term in an election dominated by security and economic issues

Buhari, the current president, was favored from the outset to win. He is a former general who briefly ruled Nigeria in the early 1980s during a period of military dictatorship.

He won his first election in 2015 by promising to crack down on corruption and stamp out extremist groups such as Boko Haram. Buhari’s victory was historic, because it was the first time an opposition candidate had unseated an incumbent in a Nigerian democratic election.

In 2019, Buhari vowed to take Nigeria to the “next level” if reelected. But his past four years in office had been somewhat lackluster. The economy struggled during his tenure. His security record is mixed. And “despite his personal record as a non-corrupt person, there’s definitely lots of corrupt people around him,” Ken Opalo, an associate professor at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, told me earlier this month.

Many of Buhari’s critics also saw him as being a bit checked out, since the 76-year-old had been absent for long stretches due to poor health. (There was even a conspiracy theory circulating that Buhari had died and been replaced by a body double, which he had to debunk.)

Atiku positioned himself as the alternative to Buhari on the economy, promoting his business acumen and advocated for more private sector initiatives. He embraced the slogan “get Nigeria working again.”

But Atiku’s presidential bid fell short — for the fifth time. His controversial past may have played a role: He’s been dogged by allegations of corruption and has been banned from traveling to the US due to his alleged ties to corruption cases. (He received a temporary reprieve recently and was allowed to visit Washington, DC.) In this election, some Nigerians doubtless felt like they had to pick between two corrupt candidates, and opted for the less corrupt one.

Buhari, after his victory on Wednesday, promised to once again focus on security, restructuring the economy, and fighting corruption. “We have laid down the foundation and we are committed to seeing matters to the end,” he said.

The majority of Nigerian voters seem willing to give him another chance.