Daura and Otuoke couldn’t have been more different on Wednesday. In the former, there were celebrations for their most famous son, Muhammadu Buhari; in the latter, disappointment for theirs.
In Buhari’s home town in northern Katsina state, motorbike riders and car drivers pulled stunts, sending plumes of dust into the air, enveloping the local ruler’s palace overlooking the square.
Veiled women ululated, young men and old cheered in approval, drums were sounded and brooms — Buhari’s party symbol — dangled from strings tied to poles and spigots of cement-plastered mud homes.
“Our joy is indescribable as a result of this historic victory of Muhammadu Buhari, which is why we are on the streets for the second day of celebration,” said Lawan Shuaibu, a 29-year-old bus driver.
The mood in beaten candidate Goodluck Jonathan’s hometown of Otuoke in the oil-rich south was more sombre. People were pensive as they reflected on his defeat.
Businesses reported sluggish trade as groups of people in twos or threes discussed the gripping election, which Buhari won by 2.75 million votes, in the first opposition win in Nigeria’s history.
The waiting room at the palace of the local king — normally a hubbub of gossip and activity — was hushed and the monarch was not in town.
A photo of Jonathan and his Vice-President Namadi Sambo seeking votes for the just-concluded polls hung forlornly outside.
“It was painful that our brother and son, President Jonathan, lost the election in spite of his good performance in office,” said Ibatu Whoknows, a 44-year-old civil engineer.
“He is our illustrious son in whom we are well pleased.”
– Shifting sentiment –
In both places, talk was about what, if anything, people stood to gain from the change in president, reflecting a patronage system that is still widespread in Africa’s most populous nation.
But there were clear signs in the two places of the contrasting styles of the two men in the contest.
Jonathan’s win in 2011 was considered a boon for the Ijaw people of Bayelsa state, leading to local development projects and even a new university in tiny Otuoke.
People in Daura had no such expectations, with Buhari having pledged to treat all Nigerians equally, eschewing favouritism for fair dealing, regardless of tribe, religion or ethnicity.
“Buhari is the son of Daura but we don’t deceive ourselves because Daura is his hometown that he will treat us differently,” said resident Ahmad Tijjani.
“Buhari never gave Daura any preferential treatment when he was head of state or when he was chairman of the PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund) and I’m sure he will not do it now.”
The only project instigated by the former military ruler was a 130-kilometre (81-mile) road to Kano, designed to boost trade with the commercial hub and neighbouring Niger to the north, Mali and Libya.
In Otuoke, some vowed to fight more battles for Jonathan, lamenting that he would not be able to finish his “transformation” agenda started four years ago into a second term.
But there was grudging admiration for his magnanimous concession, congratulating Buhari even before the final results were in, and signs of a shift away from old rivalries of religion and ethnicity.
“By accepting the outcome of the election, we have shown to the world that we are truly the ‘Giant of Africa’,” said civil servant Eni Green, 41.
“Jonathan has displayed good sportsmanship by conceding defeat. We have to accept the situation and team up with the president-elect to move Nigeria forward.”
“He has told us that we should not fight over the result,” added Whoknows.
“The Niger delta people will work with Buhari for the development of Nigeria. Buhari should carry everybody along.”