Nigerians choose a new leader
The new president-elect of Africa’s most populous nation contends with disputes over poll and other crises
Bola Ahmed Tinubu was named the winner Wednesday morning of Nigeria’s Feb. 25 presidential election. Tinubu is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress party.
His victory caps an electoral process in Africa’s most populous nation, which saw frustration over the voting process and final results. Tinubu now faces an uphill battle, which includes contests over his victory and ongoing economic, religious, and political challenges.
The 70-year-old former governor of the southwestern Lagos state clinched nearly 37 percent of the votes. His main challenger Atiku Abubakar landed 29 percent, while Peter Obi, a Christian from the southeast who brought a new third-party challenge, won 25 percent.
“It is one country that we must build together,” Tinubu said in his victory speech as he called for the support of his contenders. “We work together to put broken pieces together.”
Hours before the Independent National Electoral Commission announced the results, some opposition parties rejected the electoral process as a sham and called for a new vote. Voters complained of delays at some polls and noted that biometric voter identification machines intended to prevent fraud did not work in some places. A delay in uploading results online also sparked fears of election rigging.
Some foreign electoral observers noted the failures meant the vote “fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ legitimate and reasonable expectations.” During his victory speech, Tinubu acknowledged the lapses but said they didn’t affect the final outcome.
Tinubu is set to take over from incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who leaves behind a weak economy and high inflation. Insecurity fueled by Islamist insurgents and armed criminals continues in north and central Nigeria. Separatist violence has also plagued parts of the southern region.
Tinubu has long held the title of “political godfather,” wielding influence over political appointments. He served two terms as governor of Lagos state from 1999, and touted his legacy of cracking down on organized crime and traffic during his campaign. But opponents have accused him of corruption and retaining a hold on Lagos state’s finances—claims he denies—and raised concerns about his poor health. In 1993, he settled a U.S. lawsuit over laundering profits from narcotics trafficking and eventually forfeited $460,000. But Tinubu denied any wrongdoing.
In a slight blow to Tinubu’s victory, Obi led the polls in the capital city of Abuja and in Tinubu’s home state of Lagos. It’s a sign of the support Obi drummed up among young and middle class Nigerians who sought an alternative to traditional leadership.
Alex Adekunle James, a 30-year-old political analyst, said Obi’s supporters also remember the heavy-handed crackdown on youth-led protests against police brutality in 2020.
“Peter Obi was that ray of hope for people,” he said. “Millions of young people who had never been interested in voting came out to get their voter cards … and actually came out to vote.”
Tinubu’s contest also raised religious concerns. Nigeria’s democracy has retained unwritten agreements that keep the balance between the nearly evenly-split Christian and Muslim populations. Christians from the south and Muslims from the north traditionally rotate the presidential ticket. The president and the vice president usually submit a Christian-Muslim ticket.
Tinubu and incumbent President Buhari are both Muslims. Tinubu’s running mate and vice-president elect is Kashim Shettima, a Muslim former governor from the northeast Borno state. Tinubu dismissed the outcry over his decision not to name a Christian running mate, but many saw it as an attempt to garner more votes from the Muslim-majority north. Tinubu also noted his wife, Oluremi, is an ordained assistant pastor at a prominent Nigerian Pentecostal church.
The Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam, who also runs a peace advocacy group in north-central Plateau state, said the election results and the minority government still face questions. “It’s just not an inclusive political arrangement,” he said. “It does not reflect the multi-religious nature, the multiethnic context, and the multicultural reality of Nigeria.”
In separate statements, the Nigeria Christian Elders Coalition and the Christian Association of Nigeria asked the electoral commission to address the concerns over the vote.
Opposition parties now have three weeks to appeal the results. Obi’s Labour Party has said it will sue, although Nigeria’s Supreme Court has never overturned a presidential vote.
“We will explore all legal and peaceful options to reclaim our mandate,” Obi said in a Thursday address. “We won the election, and we would prove it to Nigerians.”
If Tinubu’s victory is confirmed, he will be sworn in on May 29.
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