Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has turned a new page and heralds a new dawn with her March 28 presidential election that saw the emergence of Muslim politician and former Gen. Muhammadu Buhari elected to the highest office in the land.
Nigerians throughout the globe are celebrating, hoping for real democracy, transparency in government, elimination of corruption in government, a policy of putting Nigerians first by addressing their needs and aspirations and defeat of the violent Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast. Nigerians are sick and tired of the indifference of governments and officials who do not address bread-and-butter issues.
So who is this new leader that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians decided to entrust with their destiny at this critical juncture in the country’s political development and evolution? What is his background, and how is he perceived in the largely Christian south?
Buhari was born in 1942, in the northern Nigeria state of Kastina. He is a retired major general in the Nigerian Army, who was head of state, after a military coup de’tat, from Dec. 31, 1983, until Aug. 27, 1985. He also served as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund during the Abacha regime, establishing his reputation as someone who is transparent and fair-minded.
Not surprisingly, many Nigerians have become increasingly perturbed and disenchanted by the events in the nation and yearn for a change from the near-absolute power of the entrenched People’s Democratic Party. So naturally, the All People’s Congress, which is a coalition of political parties, became a strong opposition against the 16-year domination of the PDP.
Buhari was chosen to lead the APC, but some doubted his viability and ability to triumph at age 72, considering that he ran for president in 2003, 2007 and 2011 and lost each time. Many Nigerians were asking the same question: “Where are the new generations of young Nigerians who should be running for political offices, especially for presidency?”
Four years ago, Buhari was able to win approximately 10 million votes, mainly in the northeast, where he appeals to his Muslim base. But this time around, the choice of a Christian southerner, the professor and pastor Yemi Osibanjo, as his vice president worked magic. Many Christian southerners were still suspicious of the former general from the north becoming president, and more so because of a pro-Muslim stance attributed to him. But on Jan.4, Buhari declared, “Religion must never be used as an excuse to divide us, oppress others or gain unfair advantage. All my life I have expressed the belief that all Nigerians must worship God according to their wish.” That statement to an extent has doused the fire, and for some, the focus is on leadership.
The fear expressed by some that a single leader can unilaterally declare the country to be of one religion is a fallacy. Nigeria has a democratic system consisting of the presidency, the judiciary and a bicameral legislature composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are checks and balances to guard against such an autocratic event.
Unfortunately, for the ruling PDP and its leadership, things went south and sour. The Nigerian political institutions witnessed a lack of vision and direction. The April 14, 2014, abduction of more than 200 Chibok girls from their school in the northeast brought about worldwide condemnation, as many began to question the inaction of the political leadership in Africa’s largest democracy. Remember #BringBackOurGirls?
The inaction and what many consider a cavalier attitude, combined with graft and corruption, ate deep into the fabric of society. A nation blessed with an abundance of mineral and man-made resources continues to wallow in poverty and squalor. Much of the country’s infrastructure is decaying and crumbling. The educational system is in utter disarray. Under these conditions, many were fed up, and Buhari, having cemented his position in his party as a consensus presidential candidate, started preaching the political gospel of redemption, basically asking Nigerians three questions: Has your life been better off these 16 years with the PDP administration? What is corruption is doing to you and your family? What is the legacy for your children?
Nigerians are fed up with the anemic power supply problem, lack of clean water, low standard of living and prevalence of greed and corruption. Buhari promised that if elected president, he would eliminate corruption, make leadership accountable for any mismanagement and contain the Boko Haram menace in the northeast and elsewhere in Nigeria.
As a new democrat, Buhari has the opportunity to show Nigerians that life can be better. Many believe he is a smart, tough and transparent leader who will steer the ship of the Nigerian nation in a better direction. Rome was not built in a day, so while we look to Buhari to perform the miracle he has promised Nigerians before the very watchful eyes of the world, the hope is that he is given the opportunity to prove himself.
Buhari does not need any distraction by forces other than those that subscribe to democratic values. Opposition is good for providing the checks and balances needed in a democracy, and Buhari and his team should welcome it. We hope divine providence guides and informs his decisions for the greater good of all Nigerians, irrespective of religion, creed and orientation.
Power belongs to the people, and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
George Onuorah is the author of “The Political Diary of a Rising Son.”