Nigeria election: An outcome that engenders new hope


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The election result in Nigeria is virtually unqualified good news in a world desperately short of that commodity. It is good news because Muhammadu Buhari deserved to win. As a former military man (and a military ruler of the country in the 1980s) Mr Buhari seems best equipped to lead the fight against the militant Islamic group Boko Haram, and clean up corruption – both issues on which President Goodluck Jonathan, the defeated incumbent, performed poorly.

 Even better news, however, is the way in which the election unfolded. The same two candidates fought the last election in 2011, when the stakes were considerably lower, but which led to at least 1,100 deaths. Fears were widespread that this time the  violence would be worse. The vote was originally set for February, but postponed for six weeks. Ostensibly, the delay was to overcome interference by Boko Haram, but it seemed to many an attempt by the ruling PDP party to manipulate the outcome. Those worries were amplified by warnings from Britain and the US about possible voting irregularities.

 Instead, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, an incumbent leader has been defeated at the polls. Far from contesting the result, Mr Jonathan graciously conceded defeat, congratulating his opponent, and urging disgruntled supporters to seek redress through the courts, not on the streets. “I promised the country free and fair elections,” he said. “I have kept my word.” Nothing became him in office more than his manner of relinquishing it.

Much can happen before the formal transfer of power on 29 May, and huge problems face Mr Buhari, including an economy reeling from the collapse in the price of oil, Nigeria’s main export. But a vital point has been made. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, its history scarred by military dictatorships and rigged elections. Now it has shown that leaders can be ousted through the ballot box. Let other countries across the continent take note.