By Trevor William/April 1, 2015
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and a democracy of more than 170 million people, was scheduled to go to the polls in February, but presidential and parliamentary elections were postponed to late March due to the threat of violence by Boko Haram, the Islamist insurgency that has taken hold in the north.
Some worried that the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, was simply manipulating the situation to rally his electoral troops in light of what looked to be a formidable challenge from former military man Muhammadu Buhari, the general who famously ruled as a dictator for a few years after a coup d’etat in the early 1980s.
For Kennesaw State University’s Akanmu Adebayo, a Nigeria native and director of the university’s Center for Conflict Management, this shift did more than force a change in travel plans. It added another wrinkle in his duties as an official observer in an election that turned out to be as electrifying as it was historic.
After the voting was extended from Saturday to Sunday, March 29, in some polling units, it became clear that Mr. Buhari, 72, had unseated Mr. Jonathan, the first time a challenger had snatched the presidency from an incumbent. He also did it handily: With the final precincts reporting, Mr. Buhari had topped Mr. Jonathan by a margin of 2.5 million votes.
The demand for change in a country racked by corruption, falling oil prices and Boko Haram showed Dr. Adebayo that this could be the beginning of a new moment in Nigerian — and African — democracy, despite the looming threat of violence.
Based on his observations, Dr. Adebayo concluded that that elections were fair and valid, though he saw a lot of room for improvement. In rural areas with limited electricity, light from officials’ mobile phones was used to count votes, a small number of newly introduced card readers faced problems and the 1 million people employed by the election watchdog had no chance to vote themselves, according to his preliminary report. Global Atlanta caught up with Dr. Adebayo by email in Ibadan, Nigeria. The interview follows: