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After Nigeria's Election, A Call For Unity


Last weekend, we reported on Nigeria's historic presidential election. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan lost to former military leader Muhammadu Buhari. No incumbent president has ever lost an election in Nigeria, and some worried if the president would willingly step down. Those fears evaporated this week when President Jonathan called Buhari to congratulate him. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.


OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: That's Nigeria's outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, getting through on the line to incoming President-elect Muhammadu Buhari.


MUHAMMADU BUHARI: Hello, Your Excellency.

GOODLUCK JONATHAN: Your Excellency, how are you?

BUHARI: I'm all right, Your Excellency.


JONATHAN: Congratulations.

BUHARI: Thank you very much, Your Excellency.

JONATHAN: Yes. How are things?

QUIST-ARCTON: And with that brief chat, history was made in Nigeria - the first time a sitting president has been voted out of office, let alone called up the victorious opposition challenger to say well done before official results were declared. Only Jonathan's PDP party has governed Nigeria since it returned to multiparty democracy 16 years ago. Buhari supporters are jubilant, including Aisha Birma. But she says Goodluck Jonathan deserves their respect for being a statesman and preempting any violence.

AISHA BIRMA: I want to commend the president conceding defeat. This is a victory for our democracy, so we are very happy.

QUIST-ARCTON: That hasn't always been the case in Nigeria. Past elections have been blighted by vote-rigging and deadly clashes. Goodluck Jonathan spokesman Reuben Abati told NPR the president's view is elections are not a matter of life or death. You win. You lose. Life continues.

REUBEN ABATI: Everyone had thought that, you know, this election would result in a blowout, that corpses would litter the streets. But President Jonathan coming forward showed leadership - solid leadership - at that critical moment.

QUIST-ARCTON: Despite this bitterly fought presidential race, in his victory speech, Muhammadu Buhari hailed President Jonathan and told his compatriots it's time for unity.


BUHARI: You voted with your heart. This is not the time for confrontation. This is a moment that we must begin to heal the wounds and work toward a better future. We have voted for a party and president that will serve and govern, but never rule over you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Jonathan spokesman Reuben Abati says when defeat became clear, the president remained calm and asked him to draft a speech conceding the election Buhari. So what does the future hold for Goodluck Jonathan once he leaves office?

ABATI: He has ended very well. You know, his exit is a glorious one. I believe that he will continue to serve Nigeria. He will continue to serve as an African statesman and also on the global stage as a statesman.

QUIST-ARCTON: The pressure will be on Present-elect Buhari to deliver on his campaign promises, including defeating the extremist Boko Haram group and finding more than 200 missing schoolgirls the insurgents abducted a year ago. 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.