back to top

We’ve updated our privacy notice and cookie policy. Learn more about cookies, including how to disable them, and find out how we collect your personal data and what we use it for.


Meet The New President Of Nigeria

It's a return to the familiar for Nigerians as a former military ruler wins the latest presidential election.

Posted on

This is the first time in Nigeria's history that there's been a peaceful, democratic handover of power. But who is the man who will take over the largest economy and most populous country on the African continent?

The short answer: a former leader of Nigeria who previously took power through a coup, was ousted in yet another coup, and has since tried and failed repeatedly to return to power.

Schalk Van Zuydam / Associated Press

Muhammadu Buhari during his 2003 election campaign.


Back in January 1984, Major General Muhammadu Buhari overthrew Nigeria's first democratically elected government. He stayed in power for two years and his record is pretty mixed.

About 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed as part of a campaign against waste and corruption.Some saw this as the heavy handed repression of military rule.But others, and not just northern Muslims, remember it as a praiseworthy attempt to fight the endemic graft which was preventing Nigeria's development.Largely because of this campaign, Buhari retains a rare reputation for honesty among Nigeria's politicians, both military and civilian.

On the other hand, Buhari's reign is also linked to human rights violations.

Buhari issued several decrees that granted the government wide-ranging powers to supress dissent. Protests were banned, journalists could be arrested even for writing factual stories that were critical of the government, and the state security and the chief of staff were granted the ability to detain individuals without warrant for months at a time.

He also launched what was called the "War Against Indiscipline."

"Cheating on an examination, for example, can now bring a student 21 years in prison," the New York Times reported at the time. "Counterfeiting, arson, selling oil illegally, trafficking in or using 'cocaine or any such similar drug' and tampering with telephone cables all now carry the death penalty."


Electing a former military ruler is something that Nigerians have done before.

When Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, they elected Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military leader. His record was mixed.

Buhari has acknowledged previous abuses, taking responsibility during a speech in London last year. "I cannot change the past, but I can change the present and the future," he said, calling himself "a former military ruler and converted democrat."

View this video on YouTube

Whether Buhari lives up to his new ideals — and how he manages Nigeria's economy, the fight against Boko Haram, and his relationship with the mostly Christian south of Nigeria — will determine whether he can enact the change he's promised for Nigeria.

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.