After the last few days of fever-pitch, vociferous campaigns and apprehension, it all ended on a good, albeit dramatic, note.
Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections turned out to be Nigeria’s watershed poll ever. An opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), which emerged out of a merger of four parties just over a year ago, defeated the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with a comfortable margin. The APC has now produced a President-elect – Muhammadu Buhari – whose trajectory is a case-study in resilience and forbearance. Buhari, who ruled Nigeria as a General between 1983 and ’84, is celebrated for his upright stature. He is now an example of not giving up on personal ambition, for being elected President at 72 after three failed attempts.
America’s Abraham Lincoln used to be the global reference when it comes to focus and resilience in political goal. But his case was different from. Lincoln suffered several defeats as state and federal legislature elections and Vice-Presidential nomination before being finally elected President in 1860. Buhari, on the other hand, ran three times and lost against three different people – Olusegun Obasanjo (2003), Umaru Yar’Adua (2007) and Goodluck Jonathan (2011) only to bounce back four years later, amassing a spectacular display of goodwill to defeat the same incumbent who won in 2011.
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Not only will Buhari assume power on May 29, he will also be sitting as a President with the assurance that APC has already secured majority seats in the upper and lower legislative houses. If the new administration wants to hit the ground running and secure notable early-wins, it will surely need a cooperating parliament, whose majority it has already secured.
But by far the most remarkable development surrounding Buhari’s victory was the spirit of showmanship displayed by President Jonathan who scored a first by conceding defeat and calling Buhari to congratulate him even before the final result was out. Jonathan’s action, irrespective of what might have led to it, was statesmanlike and served as a good example to the rest of Africa where sit-tight syndrome is still rife. By that singular act, Jonathan has earned the respect of many Nigerians and the world.
By conceding defeat in an election that has succeeded in introducing the card-reader technology, Jonathan has avoided the path of dishonour toed by Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivorian President who lost the Presidential election in 2011 to Allasaine Qattara but refused to hand over power until he plunged his country into a five-month violence. Gbagbo was eventually disgraced out of office and is now on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Holland. His wife, and a few others who were part of the bloodletting of four years ago, was recently sentenced to a 20-year jail-term in Abidjan.
Jonathan did not also behave like Mrs. Joyce Banda who lost Malawi’s presidential election in March and attempted to annul it with a promise that she would not participate in the rescheduled election. She was overruled by the court. She refused to concede defeat or attend the handing-over ceremony to her successor, Peter Mutharika. She simply quit.
Banda’s story was similar to Jonathan’s. She became the Malawian president in 2012 after her boss, the President, died in office. Although she was popular abroad as an advocate of women empowerment, cases of corruption and ineptitude marred her reign. While Jonathan lost to the man he defeated four years ago, Banda was defeated by the younger brother of the man she succeeded.
Unlike Ivory Coast and Malawi, Nigeria’s story is a good narrative for Africa and the rest of the world, with Jonathan already following the footsteps of General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Abdulsalami Abubakar who handed over power willingly and are celebrated for it both at home and internationally. Although he will be leaving a bruised economy and mismanaged resources, hope lies in Buhari’s vaunted integrity and strong team of technocrats he is planning to bring on board.
Returning to greatness isn’t so much about scare resources as it is about the sincerity of those at the helm of affairs and the political will to stem the tide of malfeasance that pervades the seat of power. This is the edge that Buhari obviously has, as a leader who is neither looking for material gains nor for vainglory and, more importantly, as one who intends to lead by personal example. He is already aware of the enormity of the assignment, as he alluded to the people’s huge expectation at his Chatham House, London address.
He need not stretch himself thin. He should stay with what he has promised – the four cardinal points of change: he should fight corruption and reduce profligacy in government; he should ensure security and finish off the Boko Haram completely; he should ensure stable power and social infrastructure across the country and then boost the economy in a manner that more jobs will be created, investors will return in huge numbers and stabilize the educational system that breeds ill-equipped graduates and suffers perpetual disruption.
However, as Nigeria celebrates change, the reality that shouldn’t escape us is the inadvertent return to the old three-region structure. The Babangida administration might have envisaged the six geo-political structures as a way to redefine the country along cohesive lines and redistribute wealth. But Saturday’s election was a clear return to the old North, West and Eastern regional structures.
Majority of Nigerians simply voted along ethnic lines with the Yoruba Nation, the old Western Region, emerging as the new bride that determined the fate of the other two.
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