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Former dictator wins Nigerian election

MICHELLE FAUL
Associated Press

Abuja, Nigeria – — Amid anger over an Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives, Nigerians returned a 72-year-old former military dictator to power Tuesday in the most hotly contested election in the country’s history.

Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to Muhammadu Buhari, a Cabinet minister close to the outgoing president told The Associated Press, paving the way for an unprecedented peaceful transfer of power in Africa’s most populous nation.

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 — a sign of the West African nation’s maturing young democracy. Jonathan’s party has governed since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999.

Celebrations erupted all over Buhari’s strongholds in northern Nigeria and around his campaign headquarters in Abuja.

Jonathan called Buhari to congratulate him Tuesday evening, thus conceding defeat, Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka said.

The austere and strict Buhari has described himself as a belated convert to democracy, promising that if elected, he would stamp out the insurgency in the north waged by Boko Haram, the homegrown Islamic extremist group that has pledged fealty to the Islamic State group.

Critics and supporters alike agree that Buhari is the one leader who did not treat the country’s treasury as a personal piggy bank. During his brief 1983-85 dictatorship he ruled with an iron fist, jailing people even for littering, and ordering civil servants who arrived late to work to do squats. He gagged the press and jailed journalists to cover up a deepening economic crisis as prices tumbled for the oil on which Nigeria’s economy depends. He eventually was overthrown by his own soldiers.

Nigeria’s 170 million people are divided almost equally between Christians mainly in the south and Muslims, like Buhari, who dominate the north.

Buhari’s showing in his fourth bid to become president was boosted by the formation of a coalition of major opposition parties two years ago. Its choice of Buhari as a single candidate presented the first real opportunity in the history of Nigeria to oust a sitting president.

Buhari also was able to count on considerable voter dissatisfaction with the performance of Jonathan, who has been president since 2010.

“If indeed Buhari becomes president, it sends a clear message to the people in government that you cannot take the people of Nigeria for granted and that Nigerian democracy is maturing,” said journalist and political analyst Kadaria Ahmed.

She cited Jonathan’s perceived insensitivity to the suffering of citizens caught up in the mayhem of Boko Haram’s uprising, in which some 10,000 people were killed last year and more than 1.5 million people have been driven from their homes, as stoking opposition to his re-election.