Leader con­cedes, is hailed as hero

Nige­ria’s op­po­si­tion praises the out­go­ing pres­i­dent for eas­ing ten­sion af­ter the vote.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Robyn Dixon robyn.dixon@la­times.com

KANO, Nige­ria — In a his­toric break­through for Nige­rian democ­racy, Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan con­ceded de­feat Tues­day in a hard-fought pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, sig­nal­ing that he will peace­fully turn over power to his vic­to­ri­ous ri­val, Muham­madu Buhari.

Jonathan, 57, the first sit­ting leader to be de­feated at the bal­lot box, was hailed as a hero by the op­po­si­tion af­ter he called Buhari, 72, to congratulate him on his victory late Tues­day af­ter­noon, even be­fore the fi­nal re­sult was an­nounced.

“No­body’s am­bi­tion is worth the blood of any Nige­rian,” Jonathan said in a state­ment, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported. “I promised the coun­try free and fair elec­tions. I have kept my word.”

Jonathan’s con­ces­sion dramatically re­duced the ten­sion in one of the most bit­terly con­tested elec­tions in Nige­rian his­tory.

A peace­ful trans­fer of power in Africa’s most pop­u­lous na­tion sends a strong demo­cratic mes­sage across a con­ti­nent where many pres­i­dents cling to power for decades. Democ­racy ad­vo­cates worry that sev­eral pres­i­dents want to en­gi­neer changes to their con­sti­tu­tions to ex­tend their terms.

Nige­ria’s op­po­si­tion All Pro­gres­sives Congress, or APC, had stirred up fear that the gov­ern­ing Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party, or PDP, planned to scut­tle the elec­tion.

Jonathan, how­ever, re­sisted strong pres­sure from gov­ern­ment mem­bers who were openly push­ing for the re­moval of At­tahiru Jega, the chair­man of the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion.

“There had al­ways been this fear that he might not want to con­cede, but he will re­main a hero for this move. The ten­sion will go down dramatically. Any­one who tries to fo­ment trou­ble on the ac­count that they have lost the elec­tion will be do­ing so purely on his own,” APC spokesman Lai Mo­hammed said.

In an­other pos­i­tive sign, a prom­i­nent PDP state gover­nor, Ay­o­dele Fayose, urged the gov­ern­ing party’s sup­port­ers to ac­cept the re­sult.

“The elec­tion re­sult is the will of God and Nige­ri­ans, and all lovers of peace, progress and devel­op­ment of Nige­ria must ac­cept it,” he said in a writ­ten state­ment, adding that Nige­ri­ans had ce­mented the coun­try’s democ­racy.

Ear­lier Tues­day, the op­po­si­tion APC sent mass text mes­sages to its sup­port­ers, urg­ing them to re­main in­doors and cel­e­brate with their fam­i­lies, warn­ing that the PDP had hired thugs to shoot and bomb those cel­e­brat­ing.

Those warn­ings were joy­ously ig­nored in Kano, the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest city, which is in Buhari’s heart­land in the coun­try’s nor th.

Cars raced at top speed with horns blar­ing, swoop­ing from one side of the road to the other, with peo­ple al­most spilling from win­dows, wav­ing the op­po­si­tion sym­bol, straw brooms and op­po­si­tion flags. The air was filled with the smell of burning rub­ber as mo­tor­cy­cles did crazy skids. Some mo­tor­cy­cle rid­ers drifted along hands free, their arms out by their sides.

Peo­ple walked around with cell­phones glued to their ears, lis­ten­ing as the fi­nal re­sults trick­led in. Mustafa Mo­hammed, 25, a stu­dent, lis­tened with a friend to the news on a smart­phone.

“We have been wait­ing for this very mo­ment since we cast our votes on Satur­day,” he said. “We are over­joyed. We are just cel­e­brat­ing and con­grat­u­lat­ing the pres­i­dent-elect.”

“Buhari, in his cam­paign, promised to bring san­ity and to fix the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try. He promised to help our job­less youth to get jobs,” he said.

Sit­ting by the main road watch­ing the cel­e­bra­tions with his young son, school­teacher Kabiru Musa, 52, said Nige­ria was on the verge of mo­men­tous change. A truck with dozens of youths shout­ing and wav­ing tree branches and brooms swerved in a wild U-turn.

“I be­lieve Buhari will do the best for the coun­try and the en­tire pop­u­lace. He will try to bring an end to the ter­ror­ist men­ace in the coun­try,” Musa said, re­fer­ring to the mil­i­tant group Boko Haram, which has waged a dev­as­tat­ing in­sur­gency. “He’ll make a lot of ed­u­ca­tional and agri­cul­tural im­prove­ments.”

Nige­ria has had a trou­bled his­tory of vi­o­lently con­tested elec­tions, po­lit­i­cal thug­gery, vote rig­ging and un­der­age vot­ing.

As de­feat loomed for Jonathan ear­lier in the day, a se­nior mem­ber of the gov­ern­ing party, which has held power since the end of mil­i­tary rule in 1999, in­ter­rupted the count at the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion tally cen­ter, shout­ing an­grily that count­ing had been rigged in fa­vor of the op­po­si­tion.

Gods­day P. Orubebe, for­mer min­is­ter for the oil-rich Niger Delta, ac­cused the elec­tion com­mis­sion chair­man, Jega, of be­ing “trib­al­is­tic” and as­serted that the count was biased in fa­vor of Buhari.

“We have lost con­fi­dence in what you’re do­ing, we don’t be­lieve in you any­more,” Orubebe said, as Jega calmly stood his ground.

Jonathan’s term was tainted by his fail­ure to fight cor­rup­tion and to deal de­ci­sively with Boko Haram, par­tic­u­larly when it ab­ducted nearly 300 school­girls from a vil­lage in the coun­try’s trou­bled north­east last year.

Jonathan lost largely be­cause the PDP failed to get out its vote out in his strongholds in the south and southeast, where turnout was well be­low that of the pre­vi­ous elec­tion in 2011, un­der­scor­ing the depth of popular dis­il­lu­sion­ment. Buhari, in con­trast, saw a mas­sive turnout in the im­pov­er­ished, pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim north.

Nige­ria, a coun­try of 170 mil­lion, re­mains bal­anced be­tween the mainly Mus­lim north and pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian south.

When he takes power at the end of May, Buhari, a north­ern Mus­lim, will face the dif­fi­cult task of al­lay­ing lin­ger­ing south­ern fear and smooth­ing the divide, par­tic­u­larly along the trou­bled cen­tral belt at the cross­road of north and south that has seen sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence.

The re­sult could also presage trou­ble in the Niger Delta, the heart of Nige­ria’s oil in­dus­try, where for­mer rebel mili­tias sup­port­ive of Jonathan may re­new at­tacks on oil pipe­lines, kid­nap­pings of West­ern oil work­ers and mas­sive oil theft.

Buhari’s elec­tion comes at a dif­fi­cult time for the coun­try, with a sharp decline in gov­ern­ment rev­enue from oil leav­ing scant money in gov­ern­ment cof­fers. For decades of­fi­cials and cor­rupt in­sid­ers have skimmed bil­lions of dol­lars from the na­tional oil com­pany. Although Nige­ria is one of Africa’s big­gest pro­duc­ers, it has to im­port gaso­line.

A re­tired gen­eral, Buhari is seen as a dis­ci­plined, un­com­pro­mis­ing fig­ure likely to take a hard line on cor­rup­tion and Boko Haram.

One of his ma­jor chal­lenges will be driv­ing Boko Haram out of its last refuge in the moun­tains of north­east­ern Nige­ria, af­ter Jonathan’s se­ries of mil­i­tary tri­umphs over the mil­i­tants in re­cent weeks.

As mil­i­tary ruler from 1983 to 1985, Buhari ran a harsh anti-cor­rup­tion drive and ruled by de­cree, in­tro­duc­ing re­stric­tions on jour­nal­ists and dis­si­dents, who could be pros­e­cuted for crit­i­ciz­ing the gov­ern­ment.

Dur­ing his cam­paign, Buhari por­trayed him­self as a demo­crat who had changed course since his term as a mil­i­tary ruler.

Pho­to­graphs by Ben Curtis As­so­ci­ated Press

IN KANO, a sup­porter of op­po­si­tion pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Muham­madu Buhari pre­pares to make sparks by scrap­ing a ma­chete on the road dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion of Buhari’s an­tic­i­pated victory in the Nige­rian elec­tion.

BUHARI, seen Satur­day, bested Good­luck Jonathan, the first Nige­rian leader to be de­feated in bal­lot­ing.

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