The voters of Nigeria probably made the best choice in electing Muhammadu Buhari as president, rather than the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan – and not least because this is the first time that a governing federal party in the country has lost power, by way of the ballot box, rather than by a coup d'état. African leaders have a long history of only leaving office in a coffin or at the barrel of a gun. But that has been changing.
In fact, back in 1983, Mr. Buhari himself was one of the leaders of a coup, but he ruled for only nine months. And he later accepted defeat in three subsequent presidential elections.
Mr. Jonathan's most conspicuous failures as president were his lack of resistance to widespread corruption, and his slow, feckless response to the fanatical Islamic sect Boko Haram, even after the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls, as well as the killing of as many as 10,000 people.
Mr. Buhari's promises to "spare no efforts" to suppress Boko Haram are plausible, given his military career. In contrast, Mr. Jonathan's campaign slogan was "Continuity" – in other words, business as usual.
That is not good enough. Nigeria's oil wealth is a mixed blessing, as it is for any country. Nigeria has the largest GDP in Africa, having surpassed South Africa last year. But with so much petro-money gushing around, business as usual in an emerging economy such as Nigeria means far too much corruption. There's the usual bribery and fraud, but also outright theft in the form of siphoning off and actually stealing oil.
Mr. Buhari is an austere figure, who shows no sign of corruption. For all his faults – including some past receptiveness to sharia in the courts of northern states – his energy is preferable to the amiable Mr. Jonathan's drift.
Even Nigeria's greatest living writer, Wole Soyinka, usually a scathing contrarian, intimated that he had voted for Mr. Buhari, if only out of disgust at the money being lavished by governing party. Still, Mr. Jonathan should be praised for not disputing the result – a welcome change from most Nigerian elections.