One of the biggest democratic elections in the world is over. President Goodluck Jonathan has called Muhammadu Buhari to concede in Nigeria’s presidential election. Buhari, who briefly served as a military dictator between 1983 and 1985, is once again in charge of the nation of 176 million after a close election threatened by a controversial delay and potential violence.
For months, there have been serious doubts as to whether Nigeria would be able to pull this vote off peacefully. The jihadist group Boko Haram has been waging one of the world’s deadliest insurgencies in a remote northeastern corner of Nigeria and killed nearly 7,000 people in 2014 alone. Security concerns prompted Jonathan to delay the vote, which was originally scheduled for February — although some observers suspected that Jonathan was simply worried about losing and wanted to buy himself additional time.
Nigeria is a relatively new democracy and only transitioned out of military rule in 1998. It has never had an incumbent president lose an open election and then agree to relinquish power. The peaceful and democratic transfer of power under the specter of Boko Haram could be a turning point not just in Nigeria’s development, but in a generally democratizing region where a handful of autocrats have nevertheless managed to hang onto power for decades at a time. As scholar Martin Plaut notes, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe have held onto power for a combined 104 years.
Nigeria recently passed South Africa as Africa’s largest economy and has the world’s 10th-largest proven oil reserves. Buhari’s win after a closely fought campaign adds some much-needed political stability to a country whose prospects are improving, despite Boko Haram.
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