NAIROBI — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has won a second term, according to final results published by the Independent National Electoral Commission late Tuesday, in a vote that was marred by large-scale violence and delays. His main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, a business tycoon and former vice president, called the election a “sham” and promised a legal challenge.
Buhari, 76, is a former military general who briefly held power in 1984 and 1985 following a coup. He is seen by his supporters as relatively untainted by the corruption that plagues politics in Africa’s most populous nation. A sluggish economy recovered slightly during his first term, but almost a quarter of the workforce remains unemployed and about half of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
Buhari has been lauded for his progress against the decade-old Islamist insurgency Boko Haram, which has killed more than 10,000 and displaced millions, but 2018 saw a return to levels of violence not seen in years.
“The new administration will intensify its efforts in security, restructuring the economy and fighting corruption,” Buhari said after the electoral commission declared him the winner.
Abubakar’s party called for reruns of the polls in four states and said it would challenge the election commission’s numbers in court. According to the official results, Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party received 41 percent of votes cast, compared with 56 percent for Buhari’s All Progressives Congress.
In a news release titled “Democracy Will Not Be Emasculated in Nigeria,” Abubakar alleged “glaring anomalies” in turnout numbers.
“I hope and pray Nigerians will someday summon the courage to defend democracy,” he said. “That is the only way we can move away from being the world headquarters for extreme poverty.”
Past elections in Nigeria have triggered tremendous violence, mostly because of contested results. After the 2011 elections, more than 800 were killed.
The lead-up to Saturday’s election was marked by clashes between supporters of rival politicians. Independent monitoring groups have said more than 250 were killed in election-related violence, including about 50 on and since election day.
Nigerian police said on Tuesday that 128 people had been arrested for suspected election-related offenses, including ballot box-snatching, vote-trading and impersonation.
The election was first scheduled for a week earlier, but the election commission postponed the vote just five hours before polls opened because of “logistical and operational” unpreparedness. On Saturday, many polling stations still opened late.
The delay likely depressed voter turnout, according to observer groups. In Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, for instance, fewer than 1 in 5 registered voters cast ballots. Turnout was higher in northern states where Buhari has a passionate following. Buhari won more than 90 percent of the vote in Borno state, where Boko Haram is most active.
Nigeria transitioned to democracy in 1999 after decades of military rule. The relative peacefulness of this year’s election has been seen as a sign of maturation in Nigeria’s democracy by some, although the fact that Buhari and Abubakar belong to the same religion and ethnic community likely played a major role in limiting potential tension.
Buhari appealed to voters not to stop his “moving train,” which he said was gathering momentum to combat Nigeria’s mounting crises. Critics have questioned whether Buhari has the requisite energy, given that he spent almost half of 2017 in a London hospital battling an undisclosed illness and has publicly pushed back at allegations he uses a body double.