On 28 March 2015, Africa’s most populous country went to the polls to decide who will occupy the seat of the highest office in the land. The Nigerian Presidential elections which were initially postponed from 14 February 2015, for a period of 6 weeks, took place relatively smoothly, despite fears of possible post-election violence caused by the north-south divide, and violent reprisals purported by the extremist militant group—Boko Haram. On the day of the election, social media sites such as; Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with constant updates about the electoral mood in the country. Hash tags such as #NigeriaDecides and #NigeriaVotes, were trending, which succinctly captured the importance of the democratic process in Africa. With the elections over, public interest now turns to renewed hope for Nigeria. This hope pertains to political, social and economic gains to be harnessed not just for Nigeria, but for the African continent as a whole. Will Nigeria’s new leaders bring about much-needed change and stability in Africa’s most populous country or will things remain the same? This is a question on the minds of all observers, in the wake of Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral win.
A New Era for Nigerian Politics: from Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari.
The electoral victory of the All Progressive Congress’s Presidential Candidate—Muhammadu Buhari has ushered a new era in Nigerian politics. This is because it marks the first time since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, that an incumbent president has conceded defeat, and power has been successfully transferred from one political power to another. According to prominent democracy theorist—Samuel Huntington, this marks the first step in democratic consolidation; when political power is peacefully transferred from party A to party B. And this has proven to be the case in Nigeria. The incumbent—Goodluck Jonathan’s, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat to Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC), which shows that democracy is taking root in the country, and that all significant power players are accepting democracy as the only legitimate “game in town”.
The transfer of political power from Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South to Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the North, will also go a long way in quelling possible divisive ethnic tensions caused by the country’s North-South divide. In the past, tensions have arisen due to preconceived notions that incumbent presidents’ tend to favour their respective regions, often to the detriment of other areas. Because of this, an unofficial power-sharing deal was established, in order to allow power rotation between Christians (mainly in the south) and Muslims (mainly in the north).
However, this new era also marks fears that Buhari, a Sunni Muslim may cave into pressures from the north, and turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. These claims have been vehemently denied by Buhari’s camp, and may be seen as an attempt by the PDP to discredit the APC. Furthermore, it is also a period of uncertainty, as some believe that Buhari does not actually have a consolidated ideology or plan of action for Nigeria. They argue that members of the APC party are united by a common goal of returning political power to the North, rather than in actual ideology. While there is no evidence to suggest this, time remains the best arbiter in proving or disproving the validity of this claim.
Who is Muhammadu Buhari?
Born 17 December 1942, Muhammadu Buhari is a Northerner of Fulani descent, who hails from Katsina State in Nigeria. He is a retired Major-General in the Nigeria Army, who served as Head of State of Nigeria, from 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985 (in military capacity), after acquiring political power in a coup d tat. Since then, Buhari has tried severally (2003, 2007 and 2011) in civilian capacity, to secure the reigns of political power, but this proved unsuccessful until his most recent attempt in 2015.
Those who remember Buhari’s stint as Head of State, paint a picture of an authoritarian military leader whose regime was marred by human rights violations as well as a tough stance against indiscipline. In his defence, Buhari has argued that he is a reformed-democrat ready to take Nigeria to new heights and bring about much-needed stability. However, I can’t but question his democratic credentials, given that his only experience as Head of State was under the helms of an authoritarian military government. This begs to question, Whether Buhari’s return to power will be reminiscent of 80s? And if so, will democratic norms such as; Freedom of expression and Press Freedom be curtailed under this new administration, in a bid to strengthen the power base? Some may say that my fears for Nigeria’s future are unfounded given that Olusegun Obasanjo was also an ex-military leader (who served both in a military and civil capacity), but was able to successfully uphold and respect democratic norms in the country during his civilian tenure. I mean if that happens to be the case, and Buhari does prove to be a truly reformed-democrat, then Nigeria stands to gain from the experiences of an ex-military ruler. But I guess that only time will tell.
On the bright side of things, observers have noted that Buhari is very different from Jonathan, in terms of his approach to politics. While Jonathan has often been criticised for this conservative, (laissez-faire) or status quo approach to issues, Buhari has been lauded for being more radical and head-on, which might just be the change that Nigeria so desperately needs.
What should we expect from Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria?
After his swearing-in as President on 28 May 2015, Muhammadu Buhari is faced with the monumental task of addressing many of Nigeria’s longstanding problems. First on his political agenda is the security issue posed by the extremist militant group—Boko Haram. Since 2010 Boko Haram has been linked to countless attacks, bombings, kidnappings and rapes in the northern parts of Nigeria, which continues to threaten peace and stability in the West African region. The group’s most infamous attack came in April 2014, with the kidnapping of over 200 secondary school girls in Chibok, northern Nigeria. This prompted a mass international outcry and put the administration of Goodluck Jonathan under intense criticism for its inaction with regard to abating the situation. In response to the continued threat posed by Boko Haram, Buhari said in his first address to the nation since being appointed as President-elect, that “Boko Haram would soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror and bring back peace” That being said, let’s hope that these words translate into much-needed action.
The second issue is rampant corruption, which remains a serious problem in the country and has earned Nigeria a ranking of 136 out of 175 (with 1 being the least corrupt and 175 being the most corrupt) on the Global Corruption Assessment Group—Transparency International in 2014. Corruption is so pervasive that it has filtered through to all sectors in society, giving Nigeria a bad image both on the continent and internationally. Buhari has promised to tackle corruption, which he noted in the same speech to the nation—“We shall strongly battle another form of evil that is even worse than terrorism—the evil of corruption”
Third is the rebuilding of Nigeria’s economy, which has been hard hit in recent times. Although the country is the world’s 8th largest oil producer and has an estimated GDP of USD 500 billion, the largest in Africa, more needs to be done to ensure that Nigeria recovers from its recent economic woes. In recent times, inflation has reached sky-rocket levels, affecting the country economic prowess, and this has been worsened by a devalued Naria (the local currency). This situation was further exacerbated by fears of uncertainty ahead of the elections.
Another closely related issue is the diversification of the country’s economy, so as to reduce over-reliance on oil and gas. Currently, petroleum accounts for 90 percent of Nigerian export and 70 percent of the government’s revenue. Diversification will help provide much-needed employment—unemployment levels are as high as 75 percent, for the millions of university graduates that remain without jobs. It will also help to restore investor confidence in a country where this is quickly dwindling, and rebuild overall belief in Nigeria’s economy, both at home and abroad.
The fourth issue that needs to be addressed is infrastructural development in the country, particularly in area of health, so as to improve the overall quality of life for Nigerians. High maternal mortality rates remain a debilitating problem in Nigeria’s health care system, which continues to put women at immense risk during child-birth. This problem is particularly dire in the North, where women are 10 times more likely to suffer from child-birth related deaths than in the South.
Fifth, is the uneven level of development in the North and South areas of the country, a problem which is responsible for ethnic tensions and sporadic conflicts in the country. This problem should be adequately addressed, in order to achieve overall peace and stability in the country.
Sixth, is creating an environment that is conducive for harnessing the ingenuity and creativity of Nigeria’s youth. There is no doubt that Nigeria’s youth possesses ample skill, however, the socioeconomic environment is not conducive for realising and harnessing this potential. Many Nigerian youth in the diaspora are reluctant to return home due to the fact that the environment remains un-conducive. For instance, certain vocations such as street dancing etc are yet to be fully accepted as respectable professions, and as such do not have the systems in place to harness such skills, which can be very discouraging to potential and aspiring entrepreneurs. For Nigeria to provide alternative income streams (besides traditional career options) for its youth and effectively prepare them for the future, an enabling environment should be provided.
And seventh, is improving Nigeria’s image as perceived by the world at large. Nigeria is at a place in history, where the country needs a foreign policy-driven or outwardly looking President that will make it his primary foreign policy goal to repair Nigeria’s negative image as perceived by the world at large. It is important that the stereotype of all Nigerians being “drug-peddlers”, “pimps”, “con-artists”, “job stealers” and “scammers” is addressed, as this not does reflect the Nigerian people in their entirety.
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