Nigeria Democratically Elects Its Former Dictator

And votes out a sitting president for the first time

On Tuesday, voters in Nigeria selected the country's former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari as the new president, unseating divisive incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. "With all but one of Nigeria’s 36 states counted," The New York Times reported on Tuesday, "Buhari held a lead of more than two million votes."

Buhari's Historic Win

The defeat of Jonathan, who has ruled Africa's biggest economy and largest democracy since 2010, was particularly noteworthy for the fact that it was the first time in Nigeria's history that an incumbent had lost a re-election bid.

“The first transfer of power to the opposition through an election,” is how former American ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell described it in a phone call on Tuesday. For Nigeria, a country with a history of election-related violence and military coups, Jonathan's phone call to Buhari conceding defeat was a positive sign for the prospects of a peaceful transition. “I think the fact that President Jonathan made a concessionary phone call to Buhari sets the right tone,” said Campbell.
Buhari himself came to power in the mid-1980s following a coup and served as Nigeria's president for a year and a half. Campbell noted, however, that Buhari had successfully campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption and military strength, which were among the highest-priority issues for voters.

Boko Haram and Other Challenges

Buhari will assume the presidency of a country beset by corruption, failing oil prices, and six years of insurgency waged by Boko Haram.

“We have seen how Boko Haram managed to fight the Nigerian army to a standstill,” Campbell said, noting that "rebuilding security services will be a high priority" for the next president. He added that Jonathan campaigned on recent successes against the terrorist group, which only came once neighboring countries contributed forces to the fight. The group still holds significant territory in the country's northeast.