Jesús Díez Alcalde
Analyst of the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies
The democratic choice of the Muslim Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president-elect is an encouraging news. For the time being, and despite his many detractors, there is a tangible optimism in the country and also some reasons urging to trust this veteran politician; and these must be his best prerogatives to face the many challenges of Africa’s first economic and demographic power, whose stability is essential for the whole region and, even, for the entire continent.
As the forecast announced, his victory leading the All Progressive Congress has not been convincing (53.96% of the votes), but it is far from being as tight as the 45% of voters who defended the re-election of Goodluck Jonathan, leader of the People’s Democratic Party, points out. However, the same president ended this controversy congratulating his opponent and declaring, days later, that “no ambition can be more important than the blood of a single Nigerian”. With this forcefulness he avoided the repetition of the confrontations happening after the elections in 2011, which caused more than 800 deaths. Buhari’s pacifying disposition has also helped: “I extend a friendly and conciliatory hand to President Jonhathan (…). I have no ill will against anyone”.
Nevertheless, beyond differences and percentage data, other aspects give greater relevance to Buhari’s victory. In the first place, the absolute majority and the wide territorial representation –he won in 19 of the 36 Nigerian states, including some Christian in the south– grant him a clear social legitimacy. On the other hand, these results have proved to Nigerians that, through a democratic and peaceful process, it is possible to replace a practising president, something that had not happened since the end of the military governments in 1999. Finally, all international observers have declared these elections, for the first time, as “free and transparent”, something that adds a bonus of credibility to the election of Buhari and inaugurates the peaceful political alternation in Nigeria, which could become an example for other African nations.
For some people, his intransigence facing corrupt people will be essential to straighten the course of the country
After the replacement on 29 May, Buhari will have to prove that he is the suitable president to respond to the demands of a weary population that is frustrated by the bad governance, the social inequality and the scourge of violence. The challenge is big: for some people, his military condition, his confirmed discipline and his intransigence facing corrupt people will be essential to straighten the course of the country, and, especially, to stop Boko Haram; some others see in these attributes his main faults, since they fear that he exercises an extremely fierce government, like when he was leading the military dictatorship between January 1984 and August 1985. To avoid this, Buhari has constantly proclaimed himself as a reformist democrat, and has also denied any accusation about a “hidden” radical Islamist agenda to transform the country. On the contrary, he has committed to work to reconcile all Nigerians, regardless of their ethnic group or religion, and to make possible that these conditions are not the reason for confrontations anymore.
“We are going to stop corruption and we will make ordinary people, the weak and the vulnerable people, our priority”, the president-elect declared. Without a doubt, corruption is a chronic evil in Nigeria: an extremely rich country where more than half of the population drowns in poverty. However, eradicating the jihadist blot is even more urgent, which has already killed more than 13,000 innocent people since 2009 and whose seriousness has been underestimated for too long: “I guarantee you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and our commitment to free this nation from the terror (…). We will spare no effort to defeat terrorism”. In this complicated scene, the only thing left to do is to prove Buhari’s will and ability to change the country, and to guarantee, that way, a more egalitarian, secure and prosperous future for 180 million Nigerians.