New Nigerian president calls for conciliation

Muhammadu Buhari greets party officials after Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat. Picture: AP

Muhammadu Buhari greets party officials after Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat. Picture: AP

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FORMER military dictator ­Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday it was time “to heal wounds,” a day after Nigeria’s president conceded defeat in a bitterly fought election.

Calling for conciliation across the political divide, Mr Buhari said Nigerians have put a one-party state behind them and embraced democracy.

“We have voted for a president and a government that will serve and govern but never rule over you,” he said. “Change has come. A new day and a new ­Nigeria are open to us. The victory is yours.”

Mr Buhari, 72, said Nigerians showed they could bring about peaceful change through the ballot box. When he is sworn in on 29 May it will be the first time in Nigeria’s history that an opposition party has democratically taken control of the country from the ruling party. President Goodluck Jonathan’s party has governed since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999.

Mr Jonathan conceded late on Tuesday, saying: “I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word.”

He urged aggrieved colleagues in his People’s Democratic Party to turn to the courts. “Today, the PDP should be celebrating rather than mourning. We have established a legacy of democratic freedom, transparency, economic growth and free and fair elections.”

Mr Buhari was the sole candidate of a coalition of major political parties that formed two years ago to offer the first real challenge to the governing party that has been in power since 1999 in Africa’s richest and most populous nation.

Results from Saturday’s election show Mr Buhari winning votes across religious, tribal lines and geopolitical lines.

Because of decades of military rule – Mr Buhari was made military ruler after a 31 December 1983 coup – this is only the eighth election in Nigeria’s history and the fifth since democracy was restored in 1999.

“You voted for change and now change has come,” said Mr Buhari. “Your vote affirms you believe Nigeria’s future can be better than what it is today.”

He was addressing supporters at his party secretariat in the capital, Abuja. His victory was fuelled by popular anger over an Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.

Outside his party headquarters overnight, women chanted songs and used grass brooms to weep the way ahead of arriving dignitaries in flamboyant robes.

“This election is not about Buhari or Jonathan, it’s about Nigeria, it’s about freedom, it’s about change, it’s about unity,” Aisha Birma said, adding that Mr Jonathan lost because he failed to provide security for Nigerians.

“What we have gone through, the Boko Haram insurgency for the past six years in Borno. You, Jonathan, were responsible for our lives and property. Security is paramount,” she said.

Mr Jonathan’s concession has defused fears of violence. Some 1,000 people died and 65,000 were made homeless in riots in the Muslim north after Mr Buhari lost to Mr Jonathan in 2011.

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