Muhammadu Buhari

Muhammadu Buhari

ABUJA. — The opposition All Progressives Congress declared victory for its candidate, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, in Nigeria’s presidential election yesterday and said the country was “witnessing history”.

“This is the first time in Nigeria that a sitting government will be voted out of power using purely democratic means,” APC spokesman Lai Mohammed told Reuters at the house in the capital where Buhari was watching the results come in.

“The people of Nigeria have taken over.”

He said the APC had no reason to doubt that President Goodluck Jonathan would concede defeat, and he did so by the time of going to Press.

CNN reported that Jonathan called Buhari to congratulate him on his victory.

Former army general Buhari ruled between 1983 and 1985 after seizing power in a coup. Ousted himself in another military takeover led by General Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985, he declared himself a convert to democracy and has since run and lost in several previous elections.

Jonathan’s five years at the helm of Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy have been plagued by corruption scandals and a Boko Haram Islamist insurgency.

His People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has run Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999.

Bar some technical glitches and the killing of more than a dozen voters by Boko Haram militants in the northeast, the election has been the smoothest and most orderly in recent history — a factor that appears to have played in the outcome.

“There are probably lots of reasons why the PDP might have lost, but I think the key one is that the elections just haven’t been rigged,” said Antony Goldman, a business consultant with high-level contacts in Nigeria.

“If you leave it to the Nigerian people they will be ready to make big decisions and to make Nigeria look something more like a conventional democracy.”

In the Abuja house where Buhari was staying, there was restrained joy — fitting with his image as a sandal-wearing Muslim ascetic — tinged with a sense of responsibility to manage the transition in a country with a long history of political violence.

“We should all work together to redirect the country. A lot of sacrifices will have to be made,” Kwara state senator and senior APC official Bukola Saraki said.

In a sign of simmering PDP passions, Buhari’s march to victory was briefly interrupted when Godsday Orubebe, a former minister from the Niger Delta, grabbed a microphone and launched into a 10-minute rant against election commissioner Attahiru Jega at the body’s headquarters in the capital.

“Mr Chairman, we have lost confidence in what you are doing,” he shouted. “You are being very, very selective.” —Reuters.