Former military dictator general Muhammadu Buhari was elected president in Nigeria last week.
During the campaign his All Progressives Congress (APC) called him “the people’s general”, promising “change”.
The junta he headed from 1983-85 locked up corrupt politicians, but it repressed all types of political organisations. It oversaw indiscriminate detention without trial. Nigerians danced on the streets when it was overthrown.
But now Buhari uses his reputation as an austere, plain-speaking strongman as evidence he will keep his promises. They are to end corruption, defeat Boko Haram’s insurgency in the northeast and eradicate unemployment.
President Goodluck Jonathan accepted defeat—the first time in Nigeria’s history that this has happened.
The election was delayed for six weeks from 14 February as the military said it could not guarantee security during a major offensive against Boko Haram.
The issuing of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) to stop voting fraud was another reason for the delay. People were outraged that a week before the original poll date only 50 percent of potential voters had been issued with these voting cards.
Many Nigerians believe the delay was an attempt by Jonathan’s conservative People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to shore up support for his re-election bid.
Things seemed to go PDP’s way. The military campaign recovered 80 percent of the territory that Boko Haram had held since last August. Most PVCs were distributed. And PDP threw everything into reminding people that Buhari had been a merciless dictator. But this was not enough.
Buhari won for four main reasons. First, oil prices have collapsed and Nigeria, as a major oil producer, is in economic crisis. The government is implementing austerity. A third of Nigeria’s 36 states are behind in paying public sector wages—by up to five months.
Second, the bungled war against Boko Haram. Buhari resoundingly won in the newly “liberated areas” where the government’s action is seen as too little too late.
Third, APC offered a national opposition. Nigerian politics has tended to be based on ethno-regional “catchment areas”. The PDP, which has won every presidential election since democracy was restored in 1999, was arguably the first real pan-Nigerian party.
The APC was formed two years ago as a merger of four different parties which guaranteed a national spread of influence, party machinery and resources.
Fourth, the use of PVCs drastically limited the room for electoral fraud, which has worked in favour of incumbent parties.
Elections for state governors and law-makers are scheduled for 11 April.
PDP governors will do everything to maintain control in states they rule. Buoyed by its presidential victory, APC will also go all out to win. So it is not certain that the reasonableness that followed the presidential election will be maintained.
But the real test will come after Buhari is sworn in on 29 May. Fulfilling any of his campaign promises would be a Herculean task with the state’s level of insolvency.
But the reawakened masses have learned that power could truly lie in their hands, and are unlikely to wait four years before confronting the general they have brought to power.
The Nigerian general election was held on 28 and 29 March
- Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress won with 15,424,921 votes or 53.96 percent
- Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party got 44.96 percent
- Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and has almost 70 million voters
- Turnout was 47 percent