Opposition Wins Watershed Election in Nigeria

The results of the elections held in Nigeria over the week-end show the opposition candidate for president, Muhammadu Buhari (a Muslim), won convincingly. The sitting president, the charmingly named Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian), has accepted his defeat. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this to Nigeria’s people. For the first time since independence in 1960, a sitting Nigerian president will hand over power after losing an election. The official transfer of power occurs on May 29, but between now and then, one does not expect significant resistance to the outcome.

Despite some allegations of fraud and despite some biometric ID card difficulties, the consensus is that the election was reasonably fair. General Buhari, who ruled after a coup in the 1980s and who was ousted in one, officially received 15.4 million votes to President Jonathan’s 12.9 million. With that kind of margin, massive fraud just isn’t credible. If General Buhari stuffed the ballot box to that degree, someone would have noticed.

There was one place that was troubling. Borno state gave 94% of its vote to General Buhari, and that looks bad on the face of it. However, Borno has been where the terrorist Boko Haram has been operating, and the government of President Jonathan has been blamed. The 94% is not entirely plausible, but under the circumstances, a crushing defeat of lesser magnitude is not a surprise. Fraud would have been likely had the state gone to the president.

Both men have also made the right noises after the count was officially released. General Buhari told his supporters at the headquarters of his All Progressives Congress, “We have proven to the world that we are people who have embraced democracy. We have put the one-party state behind us. You, Nigerians, have won. The people have shown their love for this nation and their belief in democracy.” The BBC said “He also praised President Jonathan as ‘a worthy opponent’ and said that he was extending ‘the hand of fellowship’ to him.”

Any winner can be gracious. The true measure of a country’s dedication to democracy is found in the statements of the unsuccessful candidate. The BBC reported President Jonathan as saying “Nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.” He offered his “best wishes” to Mr Buhari, and urged “those who may feel aggrieved to follow due process… in seeking redress.” He did pat himself on the back yesterday in a statement that read in part, “I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word.”

It seems he has. And it seems Nigeria finally has a chance to be the rich and powerful nation that its natural resources and significant population suggest it should be. The nation has wasted 55 years trying to find its democratic feet, and at last, it has done so. On May 29, President-elect Buhari can come to grips with Boko Haram, corruption and the inequalities in Nigeria. He can address the divisions between Muslim and Christian. He can improve the life of the common Nigerian.

And if he does not, the men and women of Nigeria, armed with the ballot, can replace him. One is under no illusions that Nigeria has a tough road ahead, but finally, it has placed the power in the hands of its people. Today is a good day.