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Bola Tinubu wins tightest Nigerian presidential election in decades

Bola Tinubu wins tightest Nigerian presidential election in decades
An African Union election observer before a press conference at the ECOWAS head quarter in Abuja on February 27. Photographer: Michele Spatari/AFP/Getty Images

Millions of Nigerians voted over the weekend for a new president to succeed Muhammadu Buhari, whose eight-year rule of  Africa’s most populous nation saw the economy fall into a fiscal crisis and insecurity become increasingly rife. The election was beset by delays, reports of violence in some areas and glitches with a new electronic results transmission system.

The three main candidates — Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party and outsider Peter Obi of the Labour Party — all expressed optimism about their performance.

Who won Nigeria’s election?

Tinubu, the ex-governor of Lagos state, won with 35% of the vote, compared to 28% for ex-vice president Abubakar and 24% for ex-governor of Anambra state Obi. Each also won a dozen states, but Tinubu did better in more regions. His share of the vote is lower than any president-elect since democracy returned in 1999 — a reflection of the disillusionment of much of the Nigerian electorate after eight years under Tinubu’s ally Buhari.

Who is Tinubu?

The 70-year-old’s victory caps a three-decade political career during which he was praised for his management of the country’s economic engine and dogged by allegations of corruption that he has long denied. He studied accounting in the US and entered Nigerian politics in 1992, opposing the military dictatorship before serving for eight years as Lagos’ governor.

What kind of corruption allegations?

In 1993, he forfeited $460,000 to resolve a lawsuit in Chicago after US federal authorities said that bank accounts in his name held the proceeds of heroin trafficking. On the eve of the last national elections in 2019, two armored bank vans were spotted entering Tinubu’s Lagos compound. The incident prompted him to deny using any money to purchase votes, a common practice in Nigeria, but told reporters: “If I have money, if I like, I give it to the people free of charge — as long as it is not to buy votes.”

What happens next?

There is likely to be a legal challenge. The election was marred by delays, reports of violence and allegations of rigging. Both the LP and PDP have called for a rerun of the election, citing alleged discrepancies and a lack of transparency. Tinubu is scheduled to be inaugurated on May 29.

What happened to Obi?

The ex-banker led in nearly every pre-election poll, but came up short. Still, the movement he built — mostly made up of engaged, energized young people fed up with the status quo — has redrawn Nigeria’s political map. His nearly quarter share of the electorate delivered an unprecedented rebuke of the two main parties that have dominated Nigeria’s politics since democracy returned in 1999. His victory over Tinubu in his political stronghold Lagos was the biggest upset in years.

What kind of Nigeria will Tinubu take over?

The president-elect will take the reins of a country on its knees — its economy in crisis and insecurity rampant. By nearly every metric, Nigerians are poorer and less secure, their country less integrated onto the world stage, than they were when Buhari was elected in 2015.

What has Tinubu said he will do to fix things?

He says he will scrap a gasoline subsidy that is forecast to cost the country $13 billion this year — roughly two-thirds what it makes pumping crude — and unify a multiple exchange rate regime, along with other market-friendly moves that the IMF and World Bank have long been pressing the government over. But the last time a president tried to remove the subsidy, it sparked social unrest and he quickly backtracked. Few observers believe Tinubu will be able to enact such reforms as quickly as the country requires.

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