On February 25, Nigerian election officials declared that Muhammadu Buhari had won a second term as president of Africa’s most populous country, where voters rejected a corruption-stained candidate in favor of a leader who promised to continue a campaign to eliminate graft. Not long after the polls closed, election officials found it apparent that Buhari had defeated the leading candidate, Atiku Abubakar, by a wide margin in an election that was marred by violence. In his post-election statement, President Buhari said he planned to keep working to improve security and the economy, and to fight corruption. He asked supporters “not to gloat or humiliate the opposition. Victory is enough reward for your efforts.”
In response to the results, Atiku Abubakar released a statement calling the results a “sham election” and saying that he would contest the outcome in court. He cited what he called a “statistical impossibility” of the results in some states, where turnout was high despite the fact that life there has been upended by war, as well as anomalies in states that are opposition strongholds. Referring to violence in some states in the south where, he said, soldiers had fired on civilians, Abubakar added, “The militarization of the electoral process is a disservice to our democracy and a throwback to the jackboot era of military dictatorship.” Local civil society groups had also ticked off lists of irregularities during the voting. At one point Abubakar demanded a halt to the counting.
Nigeria’s Presidential election was in many ways a referendum on honesty, as voters once again embraced a candidate who declared to reduce the rampant levels of corruption that gave Nigeria a mediocre reputation in the past. Additionally, the election served as a referendum on the policies of President Buhari. Despite some questionable policies and poor poll numbers, Buhari was able to secure a second term due to a lower than expected turnout and lack of enthusiasm on the part of Abubakar supporters. Another factor that influence turnout was the fact that election officials decided to delay the vote by a week just hours before polls were to have opened. Numerous registered voters had made long journeys to their home districts to vote because Nigeria has no absentee balloting system. When officials postponed the election, many people gave up and returned home.