(Bloomberg) -- Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari easily won a second term as president of Africa’s biggest oil producer with promises to revive an anemic economy and tackle security threats including a devastating insurgency by Islamic State. His main opponent rejected the results.
Atiku Abubakar said Wednesday he’ll go to court to challenge official results showing Buhari won the Feb. 23 ballot by a margin of 56 percent to 41 percent. He alleged the ruling party used the military to harass people in his strongholds and inflate voting numbers in its own.
“On election day, we saw the implementation of a grand theft of the people’s will,” Abubakar, 72, said in a speech in Abuja, the capital, Wednesday. “This year is my third decade in Nigeria’s struggle for democracy. But this is the worst election in those 30 years.”
Abubakar said his next steps “will be revealed to the public shortly,” and he urged his supporters to remain calm and foreign investors to “keep faith” in Nigeria.
The U.K. said in a statement that while there have been criticisms of logistics, collation of results and reports of intimidation of electoral officials, London and its international partners believe “the Nigerian people can have confidence in the result.”
The legal fight may be complicated by Buhari’s suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen in late January, ostensibly because of corruption allegations. The U.S. and European Union criticized the move, while the Nigerian Bar Association said Buhari was trying to put someone compliant at the top of the Supreme Court in the event of a post-election dispute over the results.
The stock market fell 0.7 percent by close in Lagos as investors took in the election results. Wall Street banks including Citigroup Inc. had predicted a market rally if Abubakar won.
Some investors will be cautious and look out for signs of possible violence or instability, including in the key oil-producing south, where armed militants have wreaked havoc in the past, Ifedayo Olowoporoku, an analyst at Vetiva Capital, said by phone from Lagos. “It’s good that Atiku specified that he is challenging the results in court.”
The president’s re-election will also be tainted by criticism of the balloting by foreign and domestic observers and violence that claimed 39 lives. The vote was dramatically delayed by a week hours before polls were meant to open Feb. 16, in what the opposition said was an attempt by the government to ensure low turnout. The Independent National Electoral Commission said 36 percent of those registered cast their vote.
“It is obvious that the elections were both free and fair,” Buhari said Wednesday in a speech in Abuja. “Now that the elections are over and a winner declared, we must all see it as a victory for Nigeria.”
Four years ago, Buhari became the first opposition figure in the nation’s history to come to power in what Barack Obama called a “historic step for Nigeria and Africa.” Turnout then was about 45 percent.
“The jury is still out on whether vote rigging in its various forms was decisive in swinging the vote in favor of Buhari,” said Malte Liewerscheidt, an analyst at New York-based Teneo Intelligence. “The preliminary evidence strongly suggests a deterioration in the quality of the electoral process compared to 2015.”
Buhari, a 76-year-old former general, will have to contend with a youthful and booming population angry over a lack of jobs and education opportunities and simmering ethnic and religious divisions. Nigeria now has 87 million extremely poor people, more than any other nation, according to the Washington-based Brookings Institution. The United Nations expects its population to double to 410 million by 2050, overtaking everywhere bar India and China.
Buhari’s decisive triumph confounded analysts who expected a tight vote and critics who nicknamed him “Baba Go-Slow” in reference to what appeared to be sluggish responses to crises and his health problems. He spent more than five months in 2017 receiving medical treatment in the U.K. for an undisclosed ailment.
While Abubakar, a pro-market multimillionaire, said he would float the national currency and sell stakes in the nation’s oil company, Buhari believes in a strong role for the state and retaining government control of large swathes of industry. He’s pledged to boost public spending on road and rail projects.
A Buhari victory means “more political interference in Nigeria’s economy and slower growth,” Mark Bohlund, an economist at Bloomberg Intelligence in London, said in a note Tuesday before the final results were announced. A win for Abubakar would have meant “greater capital investment and a boost to economic growth over the medium-term,” he said.
Buhari and his All Progressives Congress party have faced sharp criticism for their handling of the economy. Nigerian equities are the world’s worst-performers since Buhari came to office in May 2015, losing almost half their value in dollar terms.
Many foreign investors fled after the president tried to protect the naira amid plunging revenue from oil, the country’s main export, by tightening capital controls. After a contraction in 2016, the economy expanded 1.9 percent last year. Growth averaged 7.7 percent in the first 15 years of this century.
Buhari has a reputation for honesty and the war against graft was one of his key campaign pledges in 2015 and this time around. While he has succeeded in stamping out some of the corruption that’s long blighted Nigeria, Transparency International says his efforts have not yielded the desired results. The nation ranks 144 out of 180 countries on the watchdog’s 2018 corruption perceptions index.
Buhari and his vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, re-elected on the same ticket, will have to deal with widespread violence in the northeast, where Islamist insurgents, some affiliated to Islamic State, have been fighting to impose their version of Shariah law. The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced more than 2.5 million people in the Lake Chad region to flee their homes.
(Updates with U.K. statement in fifth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Dulue Mbachu, Anthony Osae-Brown, Mustapha Adamu, Ruth Olurounbi, Chukwudi Ejimofor, Michael Olukayode, Mike Cohen, Paul Wallace, Emele Onu and Patricia Suzara.
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