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Challenges await new Nigeria leader

Published 01/04/2015

Supporters of Muhammadu Buhari in Kano celebrate his victory (AP)
Supporters of Muhammadu Buhari in Kano celebrate his victory (AP)

Nigerians have celebrated Muhammadu Buhari's electrifying victory in presidential elections but sobering challenges confront their next leader, from an Islamic uprising to widespread poverty and graft.

Mr Buhari made history in Africa's most populous country as the first opposition party candidate to win democratic elections, ending President Goodluck Jonathan's bid for another term.

For a former major general who three decades ago led Nigeria following a coup, it was an amazing transformation to a democratically-elected president.

To start his leadership, Mr Buhari warned the country's Boko Haram Islamic insurgents that he would be coming after them.

"No doubt this nation has suffered greatly in the recent past and its staying power has been challenged to its limits, chief among them the insurgency of Boko Haram," he said at Abuja's international conference centre where he received a certificate attesting to his victory.

"Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our will and commitment to rid this nation of terror... we shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism."

Boko Haram aims to establish a caliphate and to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state, has killed thousands of civilians and carried out frequent kidnappings but has been hit hard in recent weeks by troops from Nigeria and allied forces from neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

The bespectacled president-elect also warned that corruption would not be tolerated after he takes office on May 29.

As Nigeria's leader three decades ago, he returned looted state assets. Government workers arriving late to work were even forced to perform squats. His regime executed drug dealers.

"Corruption attacks and seeks to destroy our national institutions and character... distorts the economy and creates a class of unjustly enriched people," Mr Buhari said, wearing splendid white robes with gold embroidery.

"Such an illegal yet powerful force soon comes to undermine democracy because it has amassed so much money that they believe they can buy government."

Mr Buhari had ruled Nigeria for less than 20 months before being deposed in another coup in 1985, with another major general saying Mr Buhari had been slow to overcome the nation's economic problems.

It may be deja vu for Mr Buhari when he takes over the presidency because the economy, Africa's biggest, is suffering again because of low oil prices.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil exporter and the government is heavily dependent on oil sales for its revenues.

The 2015 budget had to be slashed because of slumping oil prices. The value of the local naira currency is also dropping.

Mr Jonathan's party has governed since military dictatorships ended in 1999. Mr Buhari has been trying to be president since then and this was his fourth run at the presidency.

Mr Jonathan conceded with grace late yesterday, saying "I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word."

In a continent where there have been cases in which a sitting president refused to accept defeat at the polls and violence resulted - Ivory Coast in 2011 is an example - the turn of events in Nigeria was good news that was welcomed by many Nigerians and foreign leaders alike.

In the northern city of Kaduna, people clapped and cheered in the streets today.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I send my warmest congratulations to General Buhari on being elected as Nigeria's next president.

"This election has been a credit to the Nigerian people and a truly historic moment for Nigerian democracy.

"The UK remains a steadfast partner for Nigeria as it realises its potential as Africa's economic powerhouse and works to tackle terrorism in the region."

US president Barack Obama said: "President Jonathan has placed his country's interests first by conceding the election and congratulating President-Elect Buhari on his victory.

"I look forward to working with President Jonathan throughout the remainder of his term, and I thank him for his many years of service and his statesmanlike conduct at this critical juncture."

Mr Jonathan's concession has defused tensions and fears of post-election violence. Some 1,000 people died and 65,000 were made homeless in riots in the Muslim north after Mr Buhari lost to Jonathan in 2011.

Results from the election show Mr Buhari winning votes across religious, tribal and geopolitical lines.

Because of decades of military rule this was only the eighth election in Nigeria's history and the fifth since democracy was restored in 1999.

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