WATCH: The Nigerian leader Buhari calls for unity as the challenger rejects the vote


Nigeria's president defended his overwhelming second-term victory on Wednesday as free and fair and appealed for a "shared love of the country" as his chief challenger vowed to go to court with allegations of fraud.

President Muhammadu Buhari was declared the clear winner with almost 4 million votes. The citizens of Africa's largest democracy once again gave it the opportunity to fight off gaping corruption, widespread insecurity and an economy limping from a rare recession.

While many frustrated Nigerians had said they wanted to make a new attempt, Buhari, a former military dictator, profited from his sincere reputation in an oil-rich nation, tired of politicians becoming enriched instead of the people.

Supreme opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, a former billionaire vice-president who made campaign promises "to get Nigeria working again," quickly rejected the result of what he called "sham election."

When many Nigerians awoke to victory together with the morning prayer, Buhari told his colleagues he was "deeply humbled." He regretted the loss of dozens of lives through "mindless" electoral violence.

"I particularly want to urge my supporters not to please or humiliate the opposition, and victory is enough reward for your efforts," he said. At a later event that confirmed his victory, he added to the applause: "Elections are not war and should never be seen as a do-or-die affair." He congratulated all candidates and the democratic process, "but controversial".

In a statement shared by the adjutants, the challenger Abubakar said he would have granted "within seconds" if the vote had been free and fair. Instead, he claimed "obvious and deliberate abuses" in many of the 36 states of Nigeria.

He claimed that the vote in his strongholds in the south was suppressed, and that states threatened by an extremist revolt produced "much higher turnouts" than in peaceful ones. He also rejected the deployment of the military in some areas.

A domestic election observer, the Civic Media Lab, noted that Borno, most affected by extremist attacks, "against normal thinking" saw a 13 percent increase in turnout, even though turnout overall fell. Some residents had said they were determined to vote despite the threat.

Legal challenges are nothing new in Nigeria, where Buhari has been fighting for months in vain against electoral losses. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has never overturned a presidential election, said Chris Kwaja, a senior adviser to the United States Institute of Peace, told the Associated Press.

The colleagues of the president had expected a challenge. "There is no opposition that will roll over and play dead," said Hameed Ali, the representative of the ruling party that participated in the referendum.

The followers of Buharis began to dance on the streets of the capital Abuja on Tuesday evening when the victory became clear.

"He is a man of integrity," said a supporter of Buhari in the northern city of Kano, Mohammed Aliyu. Cheering people held up four fingers to mark the new term. "He is the only leader in Nigeria today who does not accumulate wealth."

Buhari received 15.1 million votes or 55 percent, said the election commission. Abubakar received 11.2 million or 41 percent. The average national turnout was 35.6 percent, continuing the downward trend.

"The rigging was so obvious," said an Abubakar supporter in Kano, John Orerere. However, one civil rights activist, Musa Babn Iya, claimed that Nigerians were not interested in going to court, but were instead thinking about how to get out of this trouble.

Buhari's party rejected Abubakar's allegations of manipulating results. He called on Abubakar, who had no public appearance since the elections on Saturday to accept his loss cruelly and to grant.

The elections, which were once called too tight, suffered from a surprising postponement of the week and significant delays in opening polling stations. While observers generally described the process as peaceful, at least 53 people were killed in an attack claimed by the extremist group of the West African province of the Islamic State and other acts of violence.

A former US ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, said the difficult elections would give the candidates reasons to go to court.

Many Nigerians prayed for peace during the unexpectedly long election process. Some spoke in favor of the vote in 2015 when President Goodluck Jonathan made an unprecedented move to quit Buhari before official results were announced. It was the first defeat of an incumbent president by the opposition in the history of the country.

Now the Nigerians who have been praised for their patience and resilience in this bumpy vote, are campaigning for a legal fight.