As Bola Tinubu emerged as the winner of the Nigerian presidential election on Wednesday, disillusionment dominated among the millions of young voters who had placed their hopes in Peter Obi, a surprise challenger who led in some polls throughout the campaign and managed to win 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states, including Lagos state, where Mr. Tinubu had served as governor.
By Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Obi had not yet commented on the election result, but he was expected to do so shortly. On Tuesday, before Mr. Tinubu was declared the winner, Nigeria’s two major opposition parties had called for the presidential election to be canceled and rerun, saying it had been compromised by vote rigging and widespread violence.
“If people were happy, you’d see jubilation,” said James Adah, a 38-year-old network engineer who voted for Mr. Obi and had been waiting for five hours to get cash at an A.T.M. in Lagos on Wednesday, amid the country’s currency crisis. “But they’re just moving ahead amidst this perception that the election may not have been free and fair.”
To many young voters, the election of Mr. Tinubu, 70, represented an injustice.
Josephine Joseph, a 21-year-old radiology student, said she had voted for Mr. Obi. Mr. Tinubu is “too old to lead Nigeria,” she said, as she closed the restaurant where she worked in an upscale neighborhood of Lagos. Forty percent of voters are 18 to 34 years old, and 30 percent of Nigeria’s population is under 30.
Young Nigerians have had a hard few years, with child kidnapping, skyrocketing unemployment and a crackdown on protests in 2020 that turned many against the departing president, Muhammadu Buhari, who is from the same party as Mr. Tinubu.
Millions of them saw Mr. Obi, a 61-year-old former state governor who earned a reputation for frugality, as the right man to lead Africa’s most populous country.
And for first-time voters, the election made them feel as if they were part of a bigger change they had longed for.
In a working-class neighborhood of Lagos on Saturday, Peace Salama Ayuba, 28, searched for her name on a list of voters pinned to the wall at her polling unit and grinned with pride when she found it. Saturday was the first time she had cast a ballot. “Peter Obi is why I’m voting,” she said then.
On Tuesday, resignation had replaced excitement among many Obi voters.
At a market in eastern Lagos, Emeka Nnadi, a 23-year-old Obi supporter who sells light bulbs, accused the country’s authorities of rigging the vote. Nigerian politicians have long been accused of vote buying.
“We all wanted someone who could rule Nigeria better,” Mr. Nnadi said of Mr. Obi.
Dorcas Oki, a 28-year-old hospital employee in Lagos, was in line at the same A.T.M. as Mr. Adah on Wednesday, but was pessimistic about her chances of making a withdrawal because of the cash crunch. Ms. Oki said she had supported Mr. Obi, but didn’t vote because she couldn’t travel to the polling unit where she was registered.
Still, her list of requests for the new president ran long. “Tinubu should empower the youth, provide scholarships, jobs, trainings. Let’s do something with our hands if they can’t give us salary jobs. And reduce university fees,” she said.
There were many young Nigerians who voted for Mr. Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, the main opposition candidate, who finished second in the election with 6.9 million votes, while Mr. Obi took 6.1 million. And interviews with dozens of young Nigerians over the past weeks showed that many did not vote, some because they were registered in a state far from where they lived, others because they feared violence on election day, and still others who were simply not interested.
Still, Mr. Obi captured a thirst for change among the youth, said Michael Famoroti, the head of intelligence at Stears, a data and intelligence company that observed the vote. He said that if Mr. Obi wanted to succeed, he would need to get a stronger foothold across the country. That, Mr. Famoroti added, could “change the way politics is done in Nigeria.”