- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari praised his defeated rival Goodluck Jonathan for overseeing smooth elections and said his victory over the incumbent president in Sunday’s vote signaled a new era of democracy and reconciliation for Africa’s most populous country.

In his victory speech Wednesday, Mr. Buhari, a former army general who briefly led the country in the mid-1980s following a military coup, asked Nigerians to congratulate Mr. Jonathan for his “statesmanship” for acknowledging the election result and issued a call for peace and reconciliation along the country’s political and sectarian divide.

“President Jonathan engaged in a spirited campaign and was a worthy opponent,” said Mr. Buhari, who formally takes office May 29, at the party’s national headquarters in Abuja. “I extend my hand of fellowship to him. I look forward to meeting him soon as we plan the transition from one administration to another.”

Nigerian officials are anxious to avoid a repeat of the 2011 election, in which an estimated 800 people died in post-election violence after Mr. Goodluck defeated Mr. Buhari amid charges of voter fraud and ballot-rigging.

Mr. Buhari spoke publicly for the first time after Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission certified that he had received the most votes with the required spread to win the election.

“This is not the time for confrontation,” the 72-year-old winner said. “This is a moment that we must begin to heal the wounds and work toward a better future. We do this first by extending a hand of friendship and conciliation across the political divide. We hope and pray our friends in other parties reciprocate.”

Mr. Jonathan, a Christian from Nigeria’s south who was seeking a second full four-year term, said on his official Facebook page Wednesday that Sunday’s vote fulfilled his promise of free, fair and nonviolent democratic process. Mr. Jonathan has conveyed his best wished to his successor, a Muslim with a political base in the country’s predominantly Islamic north.

“As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian” Mr. Jonathan wrote. “The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.”

President Obama commended both candidates for the smooth election process in a statement released on Wednesday, expressing an interest in working with the newly-elected government on “shared priorities.”

Despite his unexpectedly decisive win, Mr. Buhari faces a delicate transition to power and inherits a slew of major problems, including dealing with brutal jihadist Boko Haram movement and revamping an economy reeling from falling global prices for its key export, oil.

Although critics say his brief rule 30 years ago was marked by large-scale corruption, Mr. Buhari vowed Wednesday to make honest government a priority in a country which ranks far down on the global list of transparent and corruption-free nations.

“Corruption attacks and seeks to destroy our national institutions and character, … distorts the economy, and creates a class of unjustly enriched people,” he said. “Such an illegal yet powerful force soon comes to undermine democracy because it has amassed so much money that they believe they can buy government.”

The president-elect also promised that his government would “spare no effort” to defeat the Islamist Boko Haram group, which recently declared its allegiance to the Syria-based Islamic State movement.

“Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will. We should spare no effort,” Mr. Buhari said, according to the Reuters news service. “In tackling the insurgency, we have a tough and urgent job to do.”

— This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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