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Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, elects Bola Tinubu as the new president

Bola Tinubu gestures toward the crowd during a campaign rally in Lagos. He has been declared the winner of Nigeria's presidential elections.
Michele Spatari
AFP via Getty Images
Bola Tinubu gestures toward the crowd during a campaign rally in Lagos. He has been declared the winner of Nigeria's presidential elections.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been declared as the winner of Nigeria's presidential elections, beating out two other prominent candidates. It comes three days after criticism by observers for widespread logistical failings, violence that suppressed the vote and cries from opposition parties of a sham.

For Tinubu, his victory is the culmination of a deeply held ambition.

Over decades, the former two-term governor of Lagos has evolved into a divisive yet towering figure in Nigerian politics. The wealthy, so-called political godfather is a power broker who helped outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari win the presidency in 2015.

Tinubu's campaign slogan was "emi lo kan" in his native Yoruba — "It's my turn." And now it is.

He won just over 36% of the vote in one of the most tightly contested polls since the end of military rule. He lost in his home state but won by a clear margin in the rest of the country defeating 76-year-old Atiku Abubakar, a six-time presidential contestant, and 61-year-old Peter Obi, a third-party candidate who galvanized huge support from voters disaffected with the traditional political class.

The president-elect saw success in Lagos — and criticism over his continued influence

Tinubu is at once one of the most well-known politicians in the country and also an enigma, dogged by questions about the source of his wealth, his age and his health.

A former accountant and senator, he's credited by supporters for attracting major investment and turning Lagos into one of the biggest economies in Africa when he was governor of the state from 1999 to 2007.

Since he left office, subsequent governors have relied on his blessing and committed to following his blueprint.

But to his detractors, he is blamed for Lagos' many challenges: decrepit infrastructure, a lack of affordable housing and inequality. He has long claimed to have made millions while working as an accountant at Deloitte, but the firm says he was never employed.

He has often been accused of maintaining control of the state's finances which he helped to build. He has also fought corruption charges and been accused of involvement in drug-related crimes. In 1992, the U.S. government accused him in a lawsuit of laundering proceeds from heroin trafficking, and he eventually reached a settlement, forfeiting $460,000. He denies any wrongdoing.

The election indicates changes for Nigerian politics

Before the vote, several opinion polls predicted Obi would win the election. He ultimately came third but despite defeat, Obi's 25% share of the vote is the highest third party percentage tally in Nigerian history. Key wins in states like Lagos have made Nigeria's political map appear less set in stone, and more vulnerable to political mobilization of the kind that Obi has inspired, particularly among the young and middle class.

The opposition had called for the elections to be canceled and for a rerun of the vote, and there will likely be legal challenges.

But now Tinubu has been declared the next president of Nigeria, he faces the tall task of addressing major economic and security crises.

The last eight years have seen two recessions, high youth unemployment, inflation and a collapse in the value of the naira. Kidnaps for ransom attacks have spread, and armed groups are active across the country's north, central and southeast.

The inauguration is scheduled to be held in May.

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Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.