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Why Nigeria voted for new leadership

Nigeria elected Muhammadu Buhari as their next president, unseating incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. What does the new leader bring to Africa’s richest and most populous nation? Jeffrey Brown talks to Nii Akuetteh of the African Immigrant Caucus about the nation’s fight against the militant group Boko Haram and for relations with the U.S.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    For now, both sides are also watching for the kind of post-election violence that plagued the country four years ago.

    And joining me now is Nii Akuetteh, executive director of the African Immigrant Caucus.

    Welcome to you.

  • NII AKUETTEH, African Immigrant Caucus:

    Thank you.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What do we know about what explains this election? Is it pro — anti- Jonathan or pro-challenger at this point?

  • NII AKUETTEH:

    I think it is both.

    I would put the emphasis on actually anti-Jonathan, because, for one thing, this party that just won, they had been splinter parties, four of them, and they came together because they had been losing to Jonathan's party since 1999, and — but also, this time, Jonathan's party split. There was an internal dispute, and a lot of them left.

    I think that's an undercounted factor. They left because some of them had said that there was an agreement that Jonathan shouldn't stand. So both the internal problems and the external coalition, I think, help explain it. There were other issues, political issues, like the economy, like Boko Haram, and like corruption as well.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Let me ask you more about Muhammadu Buhari, because, a former military dictator, why would he be elected now in a democratic election?

  • NII AKUETTEH:

    I think we're going to be learning more about him, because even though he was a former head of state, it was only for a brief time. And then he has run three times and lost.

    And so people have — I think, outside of Nigeria, have a fairly simplistic view of him, but his image will be fleshed out now. For one thing, he's seen as a very austere, incorruptible man. He also has run four times, so, clearly, he's determined that there is something that he can do for Nigeria. And this time, so many Nigerians supported him outside. Before, he had always been popular in the north. This time, he got support in the south, too.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Do you sense implications for the fight against Boko Haram, because that of course has been much of the focus, international focus, but also in Nigeria?

  • NII AKUETTEH:

    I do, actually.

    But I think that, in the past five weeks, the elections were postponed because the military wanted more time to deal with the insurgents. And people were skeptical, but I think an objective look on the ground says actually they now have Boko Haram on the run.

    Now, they haven't been eliminated. And they are insurgency force that is using terrorism, so they can pop up at any time. But it seems to me their back has been broken. So President Buhari will just have to mop up with them, make sure that they don't crop up again, and that they don't also spill over into neighboring countries.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You see signs that they are on the run, but the fight is far from over; is that what you're saying?

  • NII AKUETTEH:

    That is what I'm saying. I think it would be dangerous to assume that it's beaten and take eyes off the ball.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What about the stakes for the United States? What impact does this have on our relations with Nigeria and, for that matter, with the larger reason because of its important role there?

  • NII AKUETTEH:

    I think it's actually a new and fresh and welcome beginning.

    I know that there are people — the U.S. officially stayed neutral, but in my own picking up in the streets of Washington, I thought that people were tired of Jonathan and they would like a fresh face. Now we have somewhat of a fresh face. And the U.S., because of Boko Haram — but like the setup mentioned, Nigeria is the richest country, the largest economy in Africa.

    Somebody has estimated that the middle class in Nigeria is almost as large as the population of Germany. And so when the hiccup over the drop in oil prices is gone, I think economic relations between the U.S. and Nigeria will be very strong. So both on security and on the economy, I think the U.S. will want to strengthen its relations with Nigeria.

    Now, the kind of work that I do in the daytime, we like to see strong relations. And, frankly, we would have liked Nigeria to have received more help fighting Boko Haram, in the same manner the U.S. has given for the fight against ISIS. And I actually get the impression that the U.S. is about to do that now.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You're seeing more possibility from that of this?

  • NII AKUETTEH:

    Right.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, Nii Akuetteh, thank you very much.

  • NII AKUETTEH:

    Thanks for having me.

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