The Nigerian people’s March 28 vote for General Muhammadu Buhari as their president-elect was unprecedented but not surprising, given the massive campaigns by Buhari’s All Progressive Congress before the general elections.
The concession of defeat by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was equally unprecedented, and it saved the country from any post-election violence.
Nonetheless, Nigeria decided as a deeply fragmented nation. While Buhari got a majority of his votes from most of the north and south-west, Jonathan got block votes from the south-south and south-east parts of the country. In order words, neither candidate could get majority votes from areas outside his region.
Nigeria is a presidential democracy with 36 states and three tiers of government—local, state, and federal. Its wide diversity—over 250 ethnic nationalities and more than 500 languages—is a source of strength but also a weakness. The 2015 general elections have once again highlighted the country’s deeply-entrenched regional politics. While the south fears northern domination, the north feels cheated out of governance for the past 13 years.
The effects of the civil war in Nigeria from 1967-70, of religious fundamentalism, and the resultant violence, are still pervasive. This will be the biggest test of the Buhari presidency—engineering a national reconciliation. He will have to “move back” and address the deep roots of ethnocentrism, in order to eventually move forward.
Besides national reconciliation, the incoming president will have to focus on addressing corruption. This was one of Buhari’s campaign promises, which he reiterated in his acceptance speech on April 1: “Furthermore, we shall strongly battle another form of evil that is even worse than terrorism, the evil of corruption…I repeat that corruption will not be tolerated by this administration.” Now, the president-elect’s task is to match his words with actions, keeping in mind the high hopes that Nigerians have pinned on their new leader.
But corruption can only be curtailed when the present culture of impunity is no longer the order of the day. This is one area that the Jonathan government failed to address; in fact, Jonathan was surrounded by people who were, in the court of public opinion, drenched with the filth of corrupt practices.
Will Buhari do better? The president-elect is known for his zero tolerance for putridity in governance. However, his closest collaborators reek of a vitiated past. Will he be willing to persecute his close allies if they are found culpable by a competent court of having amassed wealth through illicit means? And will the president-elect extend the corruption crusade to legislators and the judiciary as well? Only time will tell and test the resolve of General Buhari.
Jonathan’s major albatross was security, especially in the context of the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east. Most Nigerians were struck by the lack of direction and apparent helplessness of their government in countering the violent insurgency. Jonathan’s government did make a significant impact in the last few weeks before the elections by quelling the insurgents and recovering parts of Nigeria that were under Boko Haram’s control. But these measures came too late, and by then Nigerians had decided they want a more forceful commander-in-chief for their armed forces.
Buhari has an impressive resume. He fought for the unity of Nigeria as a soldier, is a through professional, and appreciates the inner workings of the military. This is no mean feat in a country whose armed forces are as polarised as the civilian population. Still, he has an uphill task ahead to reverse the perceived politicisation of the Boko Haram insurgency.
But there is hope for the deeply-fragmented nation, and Buhari has received the mandate of the Nigerian people for this task. There was no post-election violence and the election itself was free and fair by global standards—all positive signs for moving forward. Buhari must now restore healing to his people.
Nwachukwu Egbunike lives in Ibadan, Nigeria, and writes on social media, political participation, and social movements. He is a regular contributor to ‘Global Voices’ and ‘Global Voices Advocacy’, and tweets @feathersproject.
 Cohen, Mike, and Yinka Ibuken, ‘After Nigeria Election Win, Buhari Targets Boko Haram, Graft’. Bloomberg Business, 2 April, 2015, <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-02/after-nigerian-election-win-buhari-targets-boko-haram-graft.>
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