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.

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