Who Is Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's New President? The Former General Might Be Just What The Country Needs

After a highly contested election, Africa's biggest democracy now has a new leader. But who is Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's new president? The 72-year-old former military general is no stranger to being at the helm of the African country, having briefly been in charge decades ago. As the first opposition candidate to defeat an incumbent leader during elections in Nigeria, Buhari says things will be different this time around.

Buhari has a lengthy military career spanning decades of turbulent times in Nigeria. In 1961, Buhari joined the Nigerian Army, and over the years, he rose in rank as well as took on political roles such as governor of the country's northeastern region and federal commissioner for petroleum and natural resources. Buhari successfully helped lead a military coup on Dec. 31, 1983 to overthrow the democratic government of President Shehu Shagari.

For 20 months, Buhari was Nigeria's head of state, and was often described one of the country's toughest military rulers. Some say he oversaw a number of human rights violations, such as the public execution of young drug dealers, jailing of journalists, and expulsion of thousands of immigrants. According to The New York Times, Buhari arrested 475 politicians and businessmen on corruption charges, imprisoning many for life. But in the same way Buhari put himself in power, he was ousted in a military coup in August 1985.

PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

His military experience, however, is now welcomed with much fanfare in present-day Nigeria. For five years, the country has been war-stricken from actions made by extremist group Boko Haram. The militants are accused of killing 1,000 civilians since January, according to Human Rights Watch. Buhari unsuccessfully ran for president in the last three elections — the most recent in 2011 had him actually lose out to Jonathan — but the front-and-center threat from Boko Haram helped boost Buhari's platform of promised security. Buhari has said he is the man to beat the militant group.

Campaigning under the word "change" — the same slogan that once proved successful for President Obama — the "born-again" democrat defeated Jonathan 15.4 million votes to 13.3 million. After Jonathan conceded his defeat by phone, Buhari praised the former leader, perhaps a sign that true democracy and peaceful times are indeed in Nigeria's future.

President Jonathan was a worthy opponent and I extend the hand of fellowship to him. ... We have proven to the world that we are people who have embraced democracy. We have put one-party state behind us.

Image: Getty Images (1)