Monday, April 13, 2015

Nigeria's amazing election

Nigeria is an amazing country, not only because it has the largest population and economy in Africa but also because the latest presidential election proves that Nigeria is really a democracy. It has been said that as Nigeria goes, so goes the rest of Africa. If so, this election is a harbinger of good for the whole continent.

What made this election so amazing is that for the first time since Nigeria gained independence in 1960 there was a transition from one civilian administration to another one. Before the current regime Nigeria had experienced a succession of military rulers. In this election, however, an incumbent president was voted out of office. That has never happened before.

Moreover, President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat immediately and peacefully. He phoned and congratulated his chief opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari and promised his help with the transition.

Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari

Indeed, this time there was relatively little violence as compared to many previous elections. Previously there were probably ten times or more the number of deaths than in this one. Nigerians take elections seriously. Violence has characterized nearly all Nigerian elections since independence, but this time it was minimal,

Immediately after 1960 there were no elections, but only a succession of military rulers. There was an election in 1965, but that led the following year to a serious of military coups and a civil war (1967-1970).

Then another series of military juntas followed for almost two decades, interrupted only by a brief return to democracy in 1979, when Olusegun Obasanjo, a military president, transferred power to the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari.

In 1999, Obasanjo, a Christian, was elected as civilian president. He served for eight years when the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) transferred power to a Muslim, Umaru Yar'Adua, in the election of 2007.The PDP has a rule that the presidency should rotate between Christians and Muslims.

Yar'Adua died in 2010, He was succeeded by Jonathan, who served the balance of Yar'Asua's term and was elected in 2011 with a substantial majority. Internation observers declared this election as relatively fair, with less violence and voter fraud than compared to earlier elections.

That election and the most recent one speak volumes about Jonathan's integrity. Unfortunately, he did little to solve the problems of Boko Haram and corruption. He had promised to deal with corruption, but he was unable to address this issue effectively because it is endemic in Nigerian politics.

Muhammadu Buhari, the winning candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), will find it equally difficult to deal with corruption, since it is widespread in his party as well. He has a lot to prove, since the APC promised major changes.

Despite his military background and the authoritarian manner in which he ruled Nigeria during his first term in office, few people today question his commitment to democracy.

He will also have to deal with Boko Haram, the Islamist insurgency in the north-east that has already cost 15,000 lives and displaced more than a million people. "We will end Boko Haram," his party’s posters promised. In this election  people clearly put their faith in him. Buhari's fierce denunciation of corruption and his frugal lifestyle appeal to the poor, who make up the majority of Nigerians.

Buhari will be hampered by an economy that relies massively on oil for government revenue and foreign exchange. The federal coffers have emptied as the price of oil has tumbled. The economy is in serious trouble, with the poor suffering the most because of their large numbers.

As a Muslim, he will also find it difficult to deal with the insurgency in the delta, where Goodluck hails from and where he received sixeable support again thi this election. A peace pact was made in 2009, but some of the insurgents promised to fight again if Buhari won.

There were a few major glitches during the election with the new voter cards and biometric readers. In site of this, people gladly lined up for hours to cast their votes. In fact, they had to stand in line twice, once to certify that they were they were the same people whose names appeared on the voter cards, and a second time to cast their actual vote. In spite of this cumbersome procedure, people turned out in droves to vote. This procedure helped to prevent the massive ballot-box stuffing that characterized earlier elections in which the results were preordained. That clearly did not happen this time.

Nigerians, it appears from an analysis of the votes cast in each region, did not vote strictly on ethnic and religious grounds. This too is an important harbinger of good for all of Africa. If Nigeria can hold a largely fair and honest election, then other African countries can do the same. And they can also have a peaceful transition, as will probably shortly happen in Nigeria.

One Nigerian is reputed to have said after the election resuts were proclaimed, "We have won the most free and fair election ever to take place in Nigeria. This is a new Nigeria."  

I hope that this Nigerian is right: that a new Nigeria is here. Politically, Nigeria may have turned the corner and become the true, vibrant democracy that it always wanted to be. History reveals many examples where it has taken missteps and thus failed, but the recent election demonstrates that it is succeeding. That from now on Nigeria may be able to transfer presidential power peacefully.

Nigeria will then be a sterling example to all of Africa that democracy does work and that election violence may be a thing of the past.

My prayer is that it may continue on this new path.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Reflections on Easter 2015

Easter, which celebrates Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead, is Christianity's most important holiday. Easter is a time for reflections: on the past, the present, and the future. I did that again this year, after an unusual (at least for me) and an unholy (for many) Holy Week.

The past for me was remembering many deaths during the past year. I lost several friends and acquaintances, as you no doubt did too. I also lost my mother, who died the week after Easter last year.

Easter Sunday a year ago I had to go to Ottawa urgently since my mother was not expected to live much longer. As it happened, she hung on for another week. She had prayed for a long time that God would end her suffering and take her home. The following Sunday, God did. What was a joy for her left her six children, their spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, with a mixture of joy and sorrow: happiness for her, but sorrow for themselves.

The memory of Easter sustained and comforted my family at the time: Christ has risen! That is the guarantee of our resurrection and, indeed, the resurrection of the entire creation. The past already anticipates the future.

Christ is victorious; he has won the victory and release creation from the bondage imposed by sin. But death, as Paul reminds us, is the final enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). One day -- very soon, we hope -- death will be no more. Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Unfortunately, death is still here, as I was reminded again a few days ago by the news of the death of yet another friend. The present impinges itself harshly and cruelly every day when we hear about death and suffering or experience it personally.

Our world is an unholy one. We only has to open our newspapers to discover that. The past week they were filled with many horror stories.

A truly tragic story, coming only days before Easter, was the murder in cold blood of 147 Christian students and guards at Garissa University in Kenya by al-Shabaab. On Easter Sunday relatives of the murdered students had to identify the dead. Some way to spend Easter!

The week before the copilot of a plane committed suicide and took all the passengers and crew with him to their untimely deaths in the French Alps. This seems to have been a premeditated act by a mentally-ill man. What does Easter mean to those who lost loved ones that day?

All of us can add to this list of tragedies. All of us have witnessed many tragedies of a personal nature as well as experienced the numerous aches and pains that our mortal flesh is heir to. In fact, the whole creation is groaning in anticipation for its renewal (Rom. 8:22).

Then pain and tears will be no more: "[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21:4, NIV).

This year Holy Week was very different from previous years for me. Usually I attend as many church services as I can during that week, but not this time. A sore back derailed my plans so much that I was only able to worship in church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Even though the pain has lessened appreciatively, even now I still experience some pain. Next week I hope to leave for Africa for a few weeks to help orient a colleague at a university there. Thus I want to be in good enough shape to do that.

I will not be blogging during those two weeks, but hope to do so again after my return to Canada.

Thus the present is a constant reminder that the past is still with us, and the future remains a promise and not yet a full reality. The gospel reading for Easter Sunday spoke forcefully to me, and thus I want to share it with you now:

Mark 16:1-8 (NIV) When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Christ has risen! He is not here! In other words, he is no longer dead, but he is very much alive. The short ending of this gospel leaves the disciples afraid to tell anyone the good news, but soon Christ commanded them to tell the whole world. And the rest, as they say, is history.

That is why I am repeating it now. This was the good news I needed to hear again. All of us, whether believers or not, need hear it because the whole creation is involved.

Christ's resurrection provides comfort to all those who have lost loved ones. It is not only an assurance of their resurrection and that of those whom they loved, but it also assures everyone who experiences the groaning of creation. All of them and all of us, too, eagerly await a renewed world where all the painful things people endure now will disappear forever.

On that day all inequalities will end, all environmental problems will disappear, and all injustices will cease.  What a glorious promise!

I for one am eagerly looking forward to that day. It cannot come soon enough! A day when God's glory will illuminate everything and the kings of the earth will bring their treasures into God's holy city (Rev. 21:23-24).

This promise is not only for Christians but it includes everyone in the world. This is not an example of Christian triumphalism, but it points the entire creation to a future where the past and present will be seen in a new light.

These were some of my reflections on Easter Sunday. They helped me. I hope they can help you as well.