Implications of Nigeria's Stunning Transition to Democracy
Long standing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, whose party had ruled since 1999, has been defeated by former military coup leader Muhammadu Buhari, in democratic elections across Africa's richest and most populous nation.
Nigeria, which has a varied history of military rule since its independence from Britain 1960, has now made a transition to democracy having after adopting a new constitution in 1999. This recent election is the eighth in Nigerian history and the fifth since 1999.
Nigerians elected former military coup leader Buhari, 72, who on December 31, 1983 grab power in a military coup. Then, under a strict disciplinarian style authoritarian leadership, Buhari expelled some 700,000 immigrants from the country of 177 million people. He dispatched soldiers to the streets to flog traffic violators and made tardy government workers perform squats as punishment for being late to work. He executed drug dealers and skirted with the implementation of Islamic Sharia Law in the country. Twenty-months after seizing power, he was replaced by another military leader.
After decades of military rule, in 1999, Nigeria elected the party of Goodluck Jonathan. Under his rule, Nigeria made strong economic gains attributed mainly to its rich oil reserves. But evidence of corruption dogged Jonathan's government up until this recent election. More than anything else, the rise and the actions of the terrorist group Boko Haram, which has killed and kidnapped hundreds mainly in the north of the country, and the impotence of the Jonathan government to degrade the terrorists, led Nigerians to elect their faith in Buhari.
Noting that the time has come "to heal wounds," Buhari said of his victory as reported by the Associated Press(AP), and "...We have voted for a president and a government that will serve and govern but never rule over you," he explained to his supporters while concluding that: " Change has come. A new day and a new Nigeria are open to us. The victory is yours."
Thus, from years as a one-party nation, Nigeria has for the first time democratically elected an opposition as government. In subsequent elections since 1999, Buhari was a graceful loser in voting riddled with violence and accusations of voter fraud. But yesterday's vote results now affirm Nigeria's final transition to democracy.
However, all is not well, and will not become well in Nigeria overnight. Boko Haram still flourishes exacting violence and mayhem upon defenseless residents. Forces from Chad and Niger are battling the group on Nigerian soil. What will Buhari do? Has his old style of a strong-arm authoritarian gone for good? What of Islamic Sharia Law? Would he seek to impose such on all of Nigeria? How would he audit and account for the oil dollars?
Buhari has the opportunity to reconcile all of Nigeria - a country of 250 ethnic groups, having a Muslim population of 50-percent, and a Christian population of 40-percent.
Degrading Boko Haram and eradicating corruption should be top priorities for the new Buhari government along with maintaining true democratic ideals.