Muhammadu Buhari's election victory was the first time the opposition had won since the re-establishment of the democratic process in 1999.
Muhammadu Buhari’s election victory was the first time the opposition had won since the re-establishment of the democratic process in 1999.

Clara Sanchiz/RNW/Flickr/CC

Muhammadu Buhari will be sworn in today (May 29) as the new President of Nigeria, two months after he became the first opposition leader to win an election.

On March 28, Buhari, a former general, defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan by a 54-46 margin – the first time the opposition had won since the re-establishment of the democratic process in 1999.

The previous elections of 2003, 2007 and 2011 were marked by widespread violence across the country.

More than 800 people lost their lives after the 2011 election. Christians paid a heavy price too, with hundreds of places of worship and other properties destroyed.

Ahead of the election, hundreds of people, fearful of election violence in the country’s restive central and northern states, returned to their places of origin, as World Watch Monitor reported.

Thousands of Christians gathered on Sunday (May 24) to celebrate the peaceful outcome. The worshippers gathered at three locations in Jos – the capital of central Plateau State, which has a long history of religious violence – under the aegis of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

“We were all filled with fear and anxiety about the unity of this country and the uncontrollable violence that could be unleashed as a result of the elections. Many had predicted the destabilisation of the country through war, violence and anarchy,” said Msgr. Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria, in his address to the meeting. “Happily, God made things turn out differently.”

In Plateau State in central Nigeria, various events were staged in the run-up to the election, aimed at preventing violence. An “undertaking for peace” was even signed by the governorship candidates at the request of Christian Association of Nigeria leadership.

Msgr. Ignatius Kaigama said Goodluck Jonathan's acceptance of defeat was a 'miracle'.
Msgr. Ignatius Kaigama said Goodluck Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat was a ‘miracle’.

World Watch Monitor

But as the election results were to be announced, the incumbent, Jonathan, called his main challenger, Buhari, to congratulate him – an act that Kaigama called ” ‘The Miracle of March 31,’ when God’s will was allowed to prevail rather than resorting to prolonged legal war or violence.”

“Today we gather here to praise and honour God for answering our prayers for peaceful elections in Nigeria,” he said during the May 24 celebration. “What we are doing here is handing to God our State, our country and our leaders to His blessings.

“It is not a time of triumphant jubilation; it is not about who won and who lost, but a time for sober reflection, prayers and seeking God’s mercy – to move away from the politics of hatred, religion and tribe, to the politics of social development and harmony.”

Similar thoughts were expressed by the Christian Association of Nigeria chairman in Plateau State.

“As we approach the May 29 handing over, I want to remind you of what is important now the election is something of the past,” said Rev. Soja Bewarang, in his address.

“Now it is time to set a [God]-driven and friendly agenda for our leaders. It is no time to sit on the fence. It is not time for passive complaint. It is time for active obedience. It is time for responsibility.”

Huge expectations and challenges

Buhari inherits a very difficult social and economic situation. The fall of the price of oil has badly affected Nigeria, the biggest producer in Africa. In Nigeria’s main cities, long queues form at petrol stations. Fuel scarcity has dramatically impacted the cost of living, particularly among the poorest. Electricity has become intermittent.

The youth vote swung to Buhari, who now must confront their expectations he can ease record-high joblessness among the young.

The new president also must deal with endemic corruption and the Islamist insurgency led by Boko Haram, which has claimed 15,000 lives and displaced 1.5 million people. Despite recent territorial gains by the military, the situation is highly volatile in northeastern Nigeria, as the militants continue their deadly rampages.

At least 43 people were reportedly killed on May 23 in an attack on Gubio, a community in Borno State, in Nigeria’s northeast. More than 500 houses were burned down and many vehicles and motorcycles also set ablaze.

The situation is also volatile in central Nigeria, as what appeared to be a major massacre took place on May 24 in Benue State. More than 100 people were killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen, local media reported.

In his victory speech, Buhari had made the defeat of Boko Haram a centrepiece of his government.

“Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror, and bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas,” he said. “We shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism.”