Buhari Wins in Nigeria Vote -- Update
By Patrick McGroarty in Lagos, Nigeria, and Heidi Vogt in Yola, Nigeria
Nigerians chose a former military dictator and anticorruption crusader to lead Africa's top economy, after a bruising election that raised hopes for closer relations with the U.S.--especially in the fight against Islamist insurgency Boko Haram.
Muhammadu Buhari won 54% of 29 million votes cast over the weekend, Nigeria's election commission said on Tuesday. President Goodluck Jonathan, the first incumbent to lose an election since democracy returned to the nation in 1999, won 45%. The result reflects the government's failure to tackle the Boko Haram threat and to spread oil wealth more equitably across a deeply divided nation.
A peaceful transition would be a first for Nigeria and a historic step for the continent over which it holds increasing sway. The country's fitful democracy has suffered postelection violence in the past--Human Rights Watch said more than 800 people were killed after Mr. Jonathan defeated Mr. Buhari in 2011--and a presidential race has never been this close in the country.
Mr. Buhari previously ruled for 20 months after a 1983 military coup and has run for president four times. His return to the helm could help Nigeria cement recent gains against Boko Haram. The group's militants have killed more than 20,000 people in the impoverished northeast, and displaced more than a million.
Mr. Buhari's push to battle corruption in Nigeria could lead to more U.S. security assistance, particularly if he investigates alleged civil-rights abuses, said John Campbell, who served as U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 until 2007.
Still, even with U.S. assistance, the Nigerian military has been so depleted in recent years that major changes could take time to develop.
"Buhari has been out of government for decades and so the question will be how fast he can assemble a team that can actually wrestle with all of the difficult issues that rebuilding the security services involves," Mr. Campbell said.
Many in Nigeria say that as a Muslim and a northerner, Mr. Buhari will be able to forge partnerships that eluded Mr. Jonathan.