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President-Elect Buhari Tells Nigerians Not To Expect 'Miracles'


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Nigeria defied predictions of widespread election violence and for the first time has elected an opposition challenger. Former military leader Muhammadu Buhari will take power next month. But as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, no one is underestimating the many challenges ahead.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan set the tone. He conceded early and called to congratulate Muhammadu Buhari before the election commission officially declared that Buhari had won the vote. That was a first for Nigeria, which many said averted possible post-election violence.


PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN: I've always affirmed, nobody's ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian.

QUIST-ARCTON: This is Buhari's fourth attempt to become president of this complex democracy. Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and has been prone to coups - one led by Buhari himself - as well as ethnic, religious and political upheavals. While celebrating her candidate's victory, Buhari supporter Aisha Birma said the unprecedented gesture by the president accepting defeat shows Nigeria's political maturity.

AISHA BIRMA: This election is not about Buhari or Jonathan. It's about Nigeria. It's about freedom. It's about change. It's about unity. This is a starting point.

QUIST-ARCTON: Birma and other Nigerians warn that winning the vote is just the start, that the president-elect is inheriting unfinished business from the Jonathan administration. She says Buhari has made campaign pledges that he must now honor including an end to the Boko Haram insurgency and finding perhaps thousands of abducted civilians, among them, the 200 missing Chibok schoolgirls seized by the militants in a mass kidnapping a year ago. Buhari's promise on the hustings was that, as a retired soldier and former military leader, he has the know-how to tighten-up security in Nigeria.


PRESIDENT-ELECT MUHAMMADU BUHARI: We are asking Nigerians for their cooperation. They shouldn't expect miracles to happen a couple of months after we've taken over because the destruction took so many years - 16 years of the ruling party's rule of this country.

QUIST-ARCTON: Speaking to the BBC, Buhari was asked if he would consider negotiating with Boko Haram or use force to try to contain the insurgents.


BUHARI: For five, six years, the Nigerian enforcement law agencies, including the military, couldn't secure 14 local governments. How can I promise miracles when I come? But with the cooperation of our neighbors Cameroon, Chad, Niger and the international community, and the commitment we are going to get from the military, I think it will take us a much shorter time to deal with it.

QUIST-ARCTON: In the past six weeks, Nigeria's military has recorded successes against the militants with help from a coalition force from neighboring countries. Goodluck Jonathan's critics say, after six years the surge against Boko Haram came much too late, and was seen by many as politically convenient. Buhari says fighting corruption and unemployment in oil-rich Nigeria are his other top priorities.


BUHARI: I made that promise and I hope Nigerians will give me the opportunity to see whether my effort will be good enough or not.

QUIST-ARCTON: Fellow Buhari APC Party member and now elected Senator Shehu Sani says Nigerians have voted them in, but can vote them out if they fail to fix the country's problems.

SENATOR SHEHU SANI: We have witnessed how our people stone the leaders whom we have taken over from. We have seen how our people protested and condemned those we have taken over from. We shall know very well that those very stones that were used to pelt on those leaders are still lying on the ground very close to us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nigerians are ready for change and many are impatient for a quick fix and a better life. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abuja. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.