• World

Nigeria Elects a New President With High Hopes for Change

5 minute read

It may have taken him four tries, but on March 31, Muhammadu Buhari won Nigeria’s presidency, making history as the first candidate to unseat an incumbent in democratic elections since the country gained independence from Britain in 1960. But winning will be the easy part in a country plagued by insurgency, corruption and economic malaise.

The tumultuous campaign period, extended by six weeks in February and marked by cross-party defections and personal attacks, ended with Buhari’s winning 15.4 million votes to Goodluck Jonathan’s 13.3 million, the tightest race since the end of military rule in 1999. Although onlookers had feared the result would stir unrest, Jonathan urged his supporters on March 31 to accept it. “Nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian,” he said.

Buhari’s victory comes 30 years after he was removed as military head of state in a 1985 coup. A born-again democrat who has pursued the presidency in every election since 2003, Buhari, 72, campaigned on a platform of zero tolerance for corruption and a commitment to wiping out the Boko Haram Islamist group, which has killed and kidnapped thousands of people.

Buhari has the military experience to take the fight to the insurgents; confronting a stagnant economy may prove harder. Growth has stalled since oil prices began falling last year, and the Nigerian currency, the naira, has slumped to record lows. The President-elect must also contend with entrenched corruption and the possible resurrection of a southern rebellion fueled by a desire for a larger share of the country’s oil wealth.

But Buhari’s biggest challenge may be one familiar to any come-from-behind victor in a campaign for change: managing expectations. “We can’t afford to waste time,” says Lagos-based banker Henry Farotade. “Nigeria is in a situation where we have to get it right, right away.”

In a victory speech on April 1, Buhari described the upset as a sign of Nigeria’s political maturity. “You, Nigerians, have won,” he declared. “The people have shown their love for this nation and their belief in democracy.”

For Nigerian democracy, it is undeniable progress. For a first-time President with four years to deliver on ambitious campaign pledges, it’s a daunting agenda–especially as the country has now proved it can actually kick a sitting President out of power. Although Farotade hopes Buhari will succeed, he knows now that there will be repercussions if he doesn’t. “All we have to do is wait till 2019,” he says, “and we will vote him out.”


‘The knowledge of my innocence has given me strength in the darkest times of this ordeal.’

AMANDA KNOX, in a statement on March 27, after Italy’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction for a 2007 murder; a lawyer for the 27-year-old American said she will seek compensation for her four-year imprisonment



Gallup ranked 143 countries by how great a share of respondents said they had recently had positive experiences such as laughter or enjoyment. A sampling, from greatest to least:

[This article consists of 5 illustrations. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]




Costa Rica







Rebel Yell


An antigovernment fighter stands beside a bust of former Syrian President Hafez Assad after an alliance of Islamist rebels, including al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, seized control of the northwestern city of Idlib from the government on March 28. Idlib is the second provincial capital in Syria to be seized by opposition forces, after Raqqa, which is now held by ISIS.


The Americas Come Together

Every leader from North and South America will converge on Panama City on April 10 for the two-day Summit of the Americas. The event has taken place roughly every three years since 1994, but recent shifts in the region mean this year could produce historic results:

Welcome, Cuba

The world will be watching for a handshake between President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro as diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba continue to thaw. The U.S. had previously blocked Cuba from attending the summits.

The U.S.’s top critic

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro plans to hand Obama a petition with 10 million signatures opposing the White House’s move to designate his socialist government a security threat and sanction officials for rights abuses and corruption.

The bully pulpit

Pope Francis, the first Latin American Pope, will send top envoy Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a former Holy See ambassador to Venezuela. The Vatican’s participation for the first time is a sign of its rising regional influence after it played a role in the U.S.-Cuba détente.



Number of people sentenced to death around the world last year, a 28% increase from 2013, according to a new report from Amnesty International; the rise was fueled in part by mass sentencing in Egypt and Nigeria

Trending In


The Palestinians officially joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague on April 1, opening the door for the prosecution of alleged war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, including during last year’s fighting. Israel is not a member and opposes the ICC.


Queen Elizabeth dissolved the British Parliament on March 30 at Prime Minister David Cameron’s request, marking the formal starting point for an unusually tight election race. Polls predict that no party will win enough support in the May 7 vote to govern alone.


Uganda has started advising people to blow vuvuzelas to scare off elephants rather than shoot guns into the air, amid a rise in the number of attacks on farms and homes. Authorities say the animals find the sound of the plastic horn, often heard at soccer matches, to be irritating.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com