ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — After a hotly contested election, Bola Tinubu on Wednesday was proclaimed the winner of Nigeria's presidential election, clinching the most votes in the West African nation's closest race in recent memory.
While his party will stay in power for at least another four years, he faces a divided country, having won less than 50% of the vote, less than any previous president.
Tinubu, 70, struck a unified tone while speaking to the nation for the first time after his victory in Saturday's election.
“Together, we shall build a brighter and more productive society for today, tomorrow and for years to come,” he said from a packed party headquarters in the capital, Abuja.
Wearing his signature red hat with the imprint of a chain, which represents a broken shackle — something he's previously said is emblematic of the fractured nation that he will break free of poverty — he greeted ecstatic supporters into the early hours of the morning.
In succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari, who ends his tenure in May, Tinubu will inherit a multitude of crises that have plagued Africa's most populous nation for years.
Despite being the continent's largest economy and a top oil producer, Nigeria has been marred by violence with extremist attacks in the north, separatist clashes in the south, as well as endemic corruption, soaring inflation, unemployment and poverty.
He now faces a nation hungry for change and skeptical, that Tinubu is the person to ignite it.
Tinubu received 37% of the votes, or nearly 8.8 million, while main opposition candidate Abubakar won 29% with almost 7 million. Third-place finisher Obi took 25% with about 6.1 million, according to the results announced on live television by the Independent National Electoral Commission. In a huge upset, Tinubu lost Lagos State where he governed for eight years, to Obi, the surprise contender in what is usually a two-person race.
An accountant by trade, Tinubu is one of Nigeria's richest politicians who says his wealth comes from the inheritance of real estate and stocks, which some people have questioned.
He is facing corruption allegations and was under investigation as recently as 2021 by Nigeria’s anti-graft agency. A self-proclaimed freedom fighter who entered politics more than three decades ago, he served eight years as governor of Lagos State until 2007 and last June emerged as the All Progressives Congress party's presidential candidate, after beating other prominent members including Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Tinubu is a Muslim from the south and chose a fellow Muslim as his running mate in order to secure votes from the Muslim-dominated north, which has more registered voters than the Christian south, a strategy that proved effective, analysts say.
Nigeria's presidential terms last for four years, with a two-term limit.
With Tinubu at the helm, Nigeria could be ruled by a Muslim for a potential of 16 years — his predecessor Buhari is also Muslim — in a country where the presidency is used to rotating between faiths.
“The breach of power rotation among different regions and ethno-religious groups will likely remain a source of tension,” said Mucahid Durmaz, senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk intelligence firm.
Even though Tinubu is a Muslim like his predecessor, rotating the presidency from Buhari, a northerner, to Tinubu who is from the southwest, will likely ease the arguments over the unwritten rule, he said.
Tinubu has promised to pursue his agenda investing in infrastructure, agriculture, social welfare and security, with diligence and energy, he said. But some Nigerians aren't convinced.
“What we want is someone that can bring in a new system, not for us to remain big for nothing," said Dan Mohammed an Obi supporter. "Nigeria is the richest country, the largest country (in Africa), but we suffer the most. How can we progress with someone like Tinubu?” he said.
Nigerian politicians have a history of overpromising during campaigns and under-delivering when in power, Nigeria experts say.
“After elections, they spend so much time complaining about the wrath they’ve seen and why it is difficult for them to meet the expectations of the same Nigerians they promised heaven and earth,” said Chris Kwaja, the U.S. Institute of Peace's interim country manager for Nigeria.
Sam Mednick contributed to this report from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.