Nigeria’s opposition to launch legal challenge after Buhari wins second term

Nigeria’s opposition leader is to mount a legal challenge after President Muhammadu Buhari secured a second term in an election marked both by apathy and violence that claimed hundreds of lives.

The electoral commission officially declared Mr Buhari the victor of Saturday’s poll, saying he had won 56 percent of the vote, against 41 percent secured by his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar.

But Mr Abubakar insisted he had been cheated of the chance to lead Africa’s most populous state after a conspiracy between the commission and the president’s ruling party.

“It is clear that there were manifest and premeditated malpractices in many states which negate the results announced,” Mr Abubakar, a former vice president, said as he announced that he would file a legal petition to overturn the vote.

Mr Buhari, a former military dictator who returned to office as a civilian in 2015, insisted that the election was “free and fair”, claiming the vote was “another milestone in Nigeria’s democratic development.”

Observers have so far raised no objection to the conduct of the vote, although analysts say there were troubling aspects to it. 

Most controversially, the president suspended the country’s chief justice last month after accusing him of improperly declaring his assets. In so doing, he removed an independently minded figure who would have presided over the hearing of Mr Abubakar’s case.

As a result, the petition is thought unlikely to succeed. The suspicion of some Nigerians was also raised after the electoral commission delayed the vote by a week just hours before polling was due to start. 

Because many voters who had travelled to their rural homes to cast their ballots were forced to return to work, turnout was barely more than a third.

Many Nigerians, particularly in the predominantly Christian south, were little enthused by either candidate, both of whom are Muslim northerners.

Despite the apathy, at least 327 people have been killed since campaigning began in October, an independent group that monitors violence in Nigeria said. Most died in attacks by Islamist jihadists or in fighting between gangs and the security forces close to polling stations. More than 60 have died since Saturday.

Illustrating the challenges facing the president in a country struggling to emerge from recession and plagued by violence, a non-Islamist insurgent group in an oil region in the south has said it would resume its rebellion after a two-year lull should Mr Buhari win.

The president will face less opposition in parliament, however, after his most formidable opponent, Bukola Saraki, the head of the senate, lost his seat.