Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, won re-election following national elections held on February 23, reports the Economist. Preliminary results released by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) show that Buhari, a former military general who previously ruled the country from 1983 to 1985, beat out his main challenger, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, by a wide margin of 56 percent to 41 percent.
Abubakar denied his opponent’s victory and said that the poll was a “sham election.” He vowed to take his case to court and said that the state had deliberately deterred his supporters from voting.
Abubakar cited reports that soldiers in opposition strongholds intimidated people into not voting, reports BBC News. His challenging party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), also alleges that President Buhari’s sacking of Nigeria’s Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen less than a month before the election was done to stymie any court challenge brought against him.
The general election was marred with logistical difficulties and was originally scheduled for the week before. Hours before the vote however, INEC announced that it would be pushed back a week, citing unnamed “logistical and operational” difficulties, according to the Washington Post.
On election day, many polling stations opened hours later than expected. These delays likely led to lower voter turnout than expected, which was already predicted to be alarmingly small, reports the Washington Post. It is estimated that only 26.5 million of 80 million registered voters participated in the election, a record low at only 33 percent total turnout.
Violence was also a major concern going into the election. In total, 39 people were killed in election-related violence across the country, reports Vanguard News. More than a third of these deaths occurred in Nigeria’s Rivers State, which saw at least 16 killed in clashes between youth and military personnel.
Although this is a lower number than in previous elections, there were still 260 politically-motivated killings since the beginning of the election season in October 2018, according to the NGO Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room.
Despite these irregularities, domestic and international observers certified Buhari’s victory as legitimate. Numerous regional leaders, such as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, extended their congratulations on Twitter. The European Union also endorsed the president’s re-election, saying in a statement that, “These results are consistent with independent civil society observations.”
In a press statement, The African Union also applauded the elections, saying, “The Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, welcomes the successful conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections in Nigeria.” The AU statement also added, “…the African Union Observer Mission…concluded that the process was largely peaceful and orderly and in conformity…thus marking another important step in the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria.”
In his campaign, President Buhari made many promises, the foremost of which were to eliminate the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of the country, fight corruption, and restructure the economy, reports Stears Nigeria. Buhari’s progress on fighting Boko Haram during his first term was a hallmark for the president’s All Progressive’s Congress (APC) and was received well in northern Nigeria, which ended up voting overwhelmingly for Buhari.
Atiku Abubakar made similar pledges but focused more heavily on reviving Nigeria’s sluggish economy, reports the Economist. Nigeria’s economy went into recession in 2016 following a global drop in the price of oil and has languished ever since. Buhari’s first term saw modest recovery, but Mr. Abubakar promised to open up the country’s business sector to increase economic growth to pre-slowdown levels.
Nonetheless, these grand promises from both sides are falling on increasingly deaf ears, reports the Economist. Many in the country are dissatisfied with the nation’s increasingly out-of-touch leaders. While half of Nigerians are under the age of 18, both Buhari and Abubakar are past 70. Buhari has been criticized for not fulfilling promises made during his first term. Meanwhile, Mr. Abubakar is perceived by many to be corrupt.
Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection means that he will have a second opportunity to fulfill his promises to the people of Nigeria. For some, expectations for the president to execute his mandate are low, reports Legit Nigeria. Importantly, the political atmosphere in Africa’s largest democracy will be tense as Atiku Abubakar challenges his victory in court. Legit Nigeria says Buhari’s APC seems to have won a majority in the National Assembly, so the president will likely have the means to carry out his goals.