Nigeria has a new president! Buhari becomes leader of Africa's largest democracy and economy

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It won't be the first time Buhari is facing an oil slump. In the 1980s the price of oil collapsed when he was president - in 1984 and part of 1985.

FORMER Nigerian military leader and candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) Muhammadu Buhari is the new president of Nigeria.

Buhari defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, setting the stage for the first transfer of power from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) since the end of military rule 16 years ago.

Buhari, a 72-year-old former military ruler who heads the All Progressives Congress (APC), won 51.75% of votes cast in 35 of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory in Africa’s biggest oil producer, the Independent National Electoral Commission said in the capital, Abuja.  Buhari takes over the daunting task of leading Africa’s largest nation, with over 170 million, and also its largest economy.

Jonathan, who assumed office in 2010, received 44.4% in the election that stretched from March 28 into Sunday. 

Jonathan fails to mobilise stronghold

Buhari benefitted from a low voter-turn out in Jonathan’s southern strongholds, which swung the vote in his favour - turn outs in the South-East were a mere 37%, down from 67% in the previous election of 2011; in the South-South, they were 56%, down from 67%.

It’s an remarkable reversal of fortunes - in 2011, the country was split sharply in a north-south divide, but this time round, Buhari was able to garner support in nearly the entire South-West and gain inroads in the central region as well.

*In 2011, Buhari was on the CPC ticket

2015 results. Green = Buhari; Red = Jonathan. Only Borno state in the north-east has not been called yet.

In a move rare in African politics, and mostly reserved for a handful of countries in southern Africa, Jonathan conceded defeat and called Gen Buhari to congratulate him on his victory. It was an action many who have grown cynical about Nigerian - and African - politics, did not expect would come so quickly, if at all.

Buhari, a northern Muslim, faces the tasks of ending a six-year-old war against the Islamist militant group Boko Haram that’s killed more than 13,000 people and restoring investor confidence in an economy that’s reeling from a 50% drop in the price of oil, its main export, since June.  

Reputation for iron fist 

A retired major general who lost three previous elections, Buhari has led Nigeria before, when he overthrew a democratically elected government on Dec. 31, 1983. He built a reputation among his backers as a ruler who cracked down on corruption and crime before being ousted by the army 20 months later.

His detractors say his government was remembered for human rights abuses, with hundreds of politicians, businessmen and journalists jailed. 

“No-one truly knows what it will look like under a democratic system,” Manji Cheto, a London-based vice-president at consultancy Teneo Intelligence, said by phone. “He has a reputation of incorruptibility in a country where this attribute is believed to be a rarity for individuals occupying top positions. What remains to be seen is whether his personal integrity will have a positive impact on his government.” 

Economic challenge 

During the campaign, Buhari pledged to clamp down on corruption, boost average annual growth to 10% and create at least 1 million jobs a year. 

The decline in the price of oil, source of 90% of the West African nation’s foreign-exchange income and more than two-thirds of government revenue, will reduce the economic growth rate to 4.8% this year from 6.1% in 2014, the International Monetary Fund said in a report Monday. The naira has weakened 18% in the past six months, the steepest drop of 24 African currencies tracked by Bloomberg. 

But it isn’t the first time that Buhari is facing an oil slump. In the 1980s, the prices of oil collapsed around the time he was president, in 1984 and part of 1985. 

It’s an unlucky coincidence that he could be facing a second oil recession - the first time round, Nigeria couldn’t keep up with its debt repayments and the country’s GDP contracted by 62% between 1980 and 1986.

Former militants in the oil-rich Niger River delta, Jonathan’s home ground, had threatened before the vote to stoke unrest if Buhari won the vote. 

A successful change in power would bode well for Africa’s largest economy, said Bismarck Rewane, chief executive officer of Financial Derivatives Co. “The victory will send the right signal to the nation’s leadership,” he said by phone from Lagos, the commercial capital. “There will be massive inflow of foreign investment.”

Ahead of final results, Nigeria’s armed forces said they would continue doing their duty to the country if there was a change in leadership following the March 28-29 elections, military spokesman Chris Olukolade said by phone on Tuesday.

 Hundreds of Nigerians poured on to the flashpoint northern city of Kaduna on Tuesday, waving flags and chanting in celebration of Buhari’s election victory. The police stood by and watched as the masses marched past, dancing, singing and waving APC flags. 

Kaduna was at the center of wave of political violence after the last election in 2011 in which Buhari lost to Jonathan; 800 people were killed in Kaduna and around the country. But it appears that this time, a wide scale breakdown of law and order in the wake of the unprecedented win may be averted, a win for Nigeria’s democracy.

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