Muhammad Buhari the President Elect of Nigeria

John Otim

President BuhariOne could say without fear of being contradicted that whenever and wherever in the world democracy works you have before you a government of the people. By that we mean that the people themselves have of their own free will, in a free and fair election, elected a government of their own choice. We must rule out of consideration, the many touted elections of the fake democracies that abound in Africa, whose results are known before the vote.

But the other day of all the countries of the world this was what happened in Nigeria. In that country democracy worked. It wasn’t the first in Africa by any means. But understandably the event brought a sigh of relief to a weary world. After all did not the world see Kenya 2007 and Cote d’Ivoire 2010 and Nigeria itself in 2011? When in the aftermath of the election in which Jonathan beat Buhari, youths chanting Buhari's name killed more than 800 people in three days of street rioting.

But where and whenever democracy works it is a spectacle to look upon in amazement. Why would any country want to deprive itself of this cathartic event for the boredom and the sterility of a one man rule? The drama of the long drawn out campaign with the candidates bristling at each other, the plateau of election night, the rising tension of the waiting game as election results slowly filter in, and finally the drama of the finale as the looser heroically concedes victory to an opponent who responds in like manner, the thing is pure theater. Remember John McCain and Barrack Obama 2008 and their unforgettable speeches.

Script by script in this last election, this is what has been achieved in Nigeria. At the moment at which outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan conceded victory to opposition leader Muhammad Buhari, every Nigerian (well not quite) wherever they were, whatever they were doing, regardless of political affiliation, flashed a smile. We have done it! It was a replay of that glorious moment in their history in which Nigeria beat Brazil and won the Olympic football gold. I was in Nigeria at the time. As if on cue, the streets across the nation burst out in celebrations. Goodluck Jonathan had clearly saved the best for the last. In the context of Nigeria where egos are so big and the pressures from supporters and hangers-on are so enormous, it required a personality like his to set this example.

Now that the people have spoken, it is up to Buhari, the president elect, to demonstrate that in Nigeria the government of the people can also become a government by the people and more importantly, a government for the people: doing things for the people and in the interests of the people.

In the context of Nigeria, with its bitter histories and given the diverse and conflicting interests of the coalition that brought him victory, this is a tall order. But it can be done. And if anyone is suited to the task and equal to the task, Buhari probably is.

Buhari and FamilyTo begin with at 72 Muhammad Buhari, with two marriages behind him is no longer a young man. Buhari has seen better days and is a man tampered by experience and the passage of time. As he works his way forward Buhari is likely to pay attention to voices from the past. And they should have a lot to tell him. By any standard Buhari’s experience has been a rich and diverse one even for a man of his age.

Muhammad Buhari witnessed and participated in a civil war. He knows firsthand its horrors. He saw the starving dead in Biafra. Buhari took part in several coup plots and power games that characterized the early years of Nigerian independence. He knows about betrayals, the avarice and the cowardice that it takes.

Following one of the many coup d’états that in the long run help ruin the country, Buhari himself was head of state and saw for himself the limitations of power. He experienced what Anwar Sadat of Egypt has called the powerlessness of power! Buhari has been there. Like Olusegun Obasanjo he has even been to jail. He has seen it all. Now can he deliver? If he does he will go down in history as a great Nigerian leader.

Beyond the subject of security, brought rudely to the fore and made urgent by the chilling activities of Boko Haram, the overiding question in Nigeria is without a doubt the economy, whose poor performance has left many of the country’s institutions reeling and millions of its citizens in a dire strait. But security will have to come first in the hierarchy of things.

There is no doubt that Boko Haram influenced the outcome of the election in favor of Buhari. They made Jonathan with his youthful cheerful good boy image and his lack of decisiveness look bad. By contrast, they made Buhari with his austere no nonsense image and his record as a stern task master look good. In a nation wrecked by indiscipline Buhari in the days he was head of state, caused people who failed to adhere to simple discipline, such as waiting patiently in line for one’s turn, to be whipped on the spot by soldiers

Boko Haram shares with Muhammad Buhari, the Muslim faith. There is some irony here. But it will make it easier for Buhari to counter Boko Haram. He can sit down and negotiate with them in a way that Jonathan could not. He can take stern measures against them without fear of being dubbed anti Islam. Given his records Muhammad Buhari should succeed where Jonathan failed, in curving or even eliminating entirely the scourge of Boko Haram.

Be that as it may Muhammad Buhari will have to face sooner rather than later the one issue that really matters: the complex issue of the economy. In a country of talents he will have no lack of expertise to call upon. Buhari has shown in the past that he can work with ideas. He it was that saw for what it was the now discredited IMF stractural adjustment plan, and rejected them. The man, who soon booted him out of office and saint him to jail, embraced them. The rest as they say is history. While Nigeria sunk the small Asian Nations who also rejected the IMF plan went on to become Asian Tigers.

However the crux of the matter in Nigeria today as everyone knows is the mountain of corruption that has dragged the economy down and bedeviled the country. I remember a Lagos businessman saying that one could not do business in Nigeria without being corrupt. So endemic has the practice become that the task before Buhari, if he means business, is herculean. This is not made any easier by the fact that a great many of the people that supported his campaign and brought him victory are the very corrupt elements he will have to go after. Will he have the courage?

But the job can be done and Buhari as military leader has been there before. Back then he ruthlessly dealt with anyone accused of corruption, at times without due process. However he was there for too short a period for the results of his action to begin to show. But now the man has four long years and may be eight. If in India Narenda Mhodi despite his questionable past, is doing something for India, why can't Buhari do something in Nigeria for Nigeria.