Nigerians, Africans and all those who would love to see democracy flourishing in Africa celebrated the inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari as the new democratically elected president of Nigeria. The ceremony coincided with the country’s Democracy Day. There is no doubt many Nigerians were glad to see the back of his controversial predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, whose most significant act in office was to concede defeat in the March election and allow a smooth transition of power. Something that is hard to come by in Africa. Now that he has been given the mandate to lead the country many Nigerian trust Buhari will remedy Jonathan’s mistake but some are still sceptical of the new president.
Buhari, 72, is not a new comer to Nigerian politics and Nigerians know him very well. Buhari, who was one time the minister of petroleum in the 1970s, ousted the democratically elected president Shehu Shagari in 1983 in a bloodless coup. His regime was draconian; he unleashed one of Nigeria’s worst reigns of terror imprisoning opponents, activists, intellectuals and students. He systematically repressed freedom of expression by gagging the press. Buhari’s government introduced ‘War on Indiscipline’ aimed at promoting patriotism, strong work ethics and a culture of orderliness. Corruption and impunity were prohibited and anyone found wanting was incarcerated. Under his anti corruption campaign several ministers were arrested, tried by military tribunal, convicted of corruption and given length jail sentences. Unfortunately his policies led to economic meltdown leading to his ousting in a coup by Babangida in August 1987.
Since 1999, after the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, Buhari has tried three times to become head of state through the ballot and failed on each occasion. But against all odds he was elected on an All Progressive Congress (APC) party ticket to lead the country once more. His election marked the first time an opposition presidential candidate has defeated a sitting president at the ballot box in Nigeria’s turbulent political history. What is especially puzzling about his landslide victory is that Nigerians have trusted a man they once loathed and called the ultimate autocrat to lead them. So what had changed in Nigeria to allow such a change? The failure of the Jonathan administration to deal with the insurgency in the north east of the country were Boko Haram militants have killed close to 2000 civilians and forced 3 millions more to leave their homes. Rampant corruption by government officials, a tumble in oil prices that has seen the federal coffers emptied, gross inequality and runaway unemployment meant Nigerians wanted nothing but change.
It was déjà vu for Buhari, many Nigerians today believe the old general’s views about what is wrong with Nigeria and how to fix it as the only solution they have. Many crave a strong hand to defeat Boko Haram, they want to see a crackdown on corruption and the restoration of a sense of public accountability and in Buhari they have their man. His reputation as an incorruptible modest living politician makes his pledge to tackle graft believable. His reputation as a disciplined military ruler lends credence to his promise to crush Boko Haram. Africa and the world eagerly wait to see how he will preside over the affairs of his country under a democratic dispensation. For President Buhari winning the election was the easy part, leading and fulfilling the expectation of this potentially wealthy but underperforming country will be harder. And in his own words people “should not expect miracles.”