These last several days have been nothing if not spectacular in the history of the most populous black nation in the world, Africa’s sleeping giant – Nigeria.
Starting with the long-awaited -and previously postponed- Presidential elections which held on Saturday 28th March 2015, logistics kept several local governments voting till very late in the night on Saturday while the final votes had to wait till Sunday to be cast. Nigerians waited with bated breaths from Sunday 29th March when the results started trickling in, till the late evening of Tuesday 31st March 2015, when it finally appeared that there was a definite winner.
Yes, on the surface, it did not appear that the elections were unusual in any way. After all, Nigeria has held national elections every four years since the military went back to the barracks in 1999. Yet, these are unique elections indeed and Nigeria experienced several firsts in these elections. There was the introduction of a biometric system for one, strongly reducing the chances of vote fraud. But the most impressive part of the elections was not the technology, but the determination to trust the system again, and let it run its course.
It appears that there was a stronger belief among the electorate in Nigeria that the system would work this time around than Nigeria was used to having. Previously, the prevailing feeling was that of apathy, the feeling that the winners were pre-determined and elections were just mere formalities. This time around, the very long queues of (mostly orderly) voters across the length and breadth of Nigeria on election day, was proof that Nigeria and Nigerians were ready to do whatever it took to turn the page, and show to Africa that she was the biggest and the best.
There were indeed some challenges, from the initial glitches experienced by several voters (including President Goodluck Jonathan) in being accredited with the new biometric accreditation devices; to delays in the arrival of some election materials (and electoral officers in some other parts); but that one notable attitude exhibited by practically everybody involved in this process was an unusual fortitude. A calm assurance that the process was going to be carried through, that the votes would be counted, and that the votes would definitely count.
This fortitude, this strength of mind to be strong in the face of huge challenges saw the nation witness an impressive voter turnout, even in the cities that have experienced untold horror from the terrorist group Boko Haram. Several people who were obviously quite advanced in age insisted on being carried to the polling booths so they could participate in the elections. Knowing how the majority of these lives were lived under military rulers where they had no say in who called the shots at the nation’s capital, this was a development that was quite moving to note.
If credit is to be given to anyone, it should start with the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who has shown remarkable sportsmanship, first by letting the electoral commission, under the stellar leadership of Professor Attahiru Jega, work with some measure of independence; and Goodluck Jonathan has written his name in gold by quickly conceding defeat, calling to congratulate General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator who was running for that office as a civilian for the fourth time in a row. This singular act of calling to congratulate Buhari has probably saved Nigeria from what could have been several days of violent protests from his supporters all over the nation, and possibly unnecessary deaths. Credit should be given to the electoral commission chairman, Professor Jega, whose integrity and ingenuity has shown through in two consecutive election cycles. A final credit should be given to all the voters that went through the process with resilience.
What’s next, Buhari?
As the news spreads that a new government is going to be sworn in on May 29, 2015, the in-coming President Muhammadu Buhari has a huge task ahead of him, the first being the task of reconciling a nation sharply divided during the long campaigns. Divided, not by what many western media houses lazily refer to as “Muslim North and Christian South”, but divided by what people thought was the direction in which Nigeria needed to head. The voters in the South East and South South must be shown the Nigerian spirit, that even though the first elected President from the Niger Delta has been voted out, the Niger Delta will indeed experience growth and tremendous progress if Nigeria is ably led.
Secondly, Buhari has a smouldering fire in his backyard that must be put out immediately. No matter what the ‘experts’ say about how long it takes to root out terrorism in the 21st century, he must not believe that Boko Haram is here to stay, like some did previously, and treated it with kid gloves. Every means possible must be engaged to ensure that Nigeria’s territory is fully regained and the terrorists completely routed. Concerning the Chibok girls, Buhari can know this for certain… there will continue to be protests until they #BringBackOurGirls.
Thirdly, at a time when there is widespread disillusionment with the government and its ability to keep the economy running for the benefit of Nigeria’s teeming millions, it appears there is a huge economic task ahead of Buhari, who must make good on his electoral promises of reigning in profligate spending at the center, cleaning up the massively corrupt oil industry especially at this time when every dollar earned from the nation’s oil exports matters. Matters, not only because there is a massive infrastructure deficit that earnings from oil can fix, but because as the world increasingly finds new ways of providing energy (from renewable means and from shale oil), Nigeria’s days of smiling to the bank (because of the black gold) may be numbered. Linked very closely to this is the massive oil theft in the Niger Delta. Clearly 20% of Nigeria’s oil is stolen in a brazen manner every day. Surely it cannot continue this way.
It will probably take a little more than a four year term to fix, but a sane society where there is utmost respect for the rule of law would be a great thing to leave Nigeria with. Policemen and women that do not harass citizens, contractors that do not get away with shoddy jobs, a civil service that is enabling national progress and is not a clog in the wheel of it, responsible and innovative public office holders that will take the task of moving the nation forward serious enough, and not think they are appointed to drink champagne and fly in private jets all over the world. That would be a good thing indeed. A young President renamed the small African country he was leading, about thirty years ago, from plain Upper Volta to Burkina Faso which means “The Land of Upright People”. It will be good for Nigeria to become Burkina Faso in character, if not in name.
The task ahead for Nigeria’s new President is a heavy one, requiring vision and commitment, resilience and fortitude. But Buhari has been campaigning to be President since 2002. Let us hope he is truly ready.
Chukwudi Adepoju is @adechuks on twitter