Nigeria: The Hopeful Trickle Down of a Novel and Nonviolent Election
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and largest economy; the 21st largest in the world. Its cultural influence is similarly weighty and far reaching across the continent: Nollywood films and Naiji music are enjoyed from Kenya to South Africa, and Nigerian authors, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, have gained international recognition for their ideals and literary merit, all of which were a staple during my study abroad in Ghana. The spotlight on Nigeria most recently, however, has shed light on an increasingly violent and unpredictable facet of the country that is unfavorable to growth, morale, and development in all of its forms.
In 2014, Nigeria made international headlines due to the violent insurgency of Boko Haram, an Islamist sect widely described by the media as a terrorist movement, which swept the northern region of the country with the mission of abolishing all secular systems of government. Most notable and complete with a suitable hashtag, (perfect for those ardent supporters of a good cause but without any of the headache of commitment!), was the kidnapping of 276 Christian girls from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, northeast Nigeria. The atrocity of the event is staggering enough: today there are still 219 girls unaccounted for. Add a stagnated government that has failed to adequately respond to the needs of its own people and a lack of necessary support for its soldiers deployed to tackle the threat, and citizens are left with disillusionment and a desperate need for a change in the status quo.
Just last week, Nigeria made headlines again. This time, however, the West African country was being praised for an incredible feat, one that serves as an indicator of potential progress – holding a competitive election between two candidates for president. After delaying election day for six weeks – done to thwart Boko Haram insurgents threatening to disrupt the process – Muhammadu Buhari, former military leader and a ruler of Nigeria for a 20 month period from 1983-1985, was elected president on March 29, successfully marking the first time an elected incumbent President has peacefully transferred power to the elected opposition leader. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan conceded the position and offered his congratulations on March 31, after elections that were mostly peaceful and violence free, citing “nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian.”
The last time Mr. Buhari rose to power was an extremely different story: he served as a leader of the December 1983 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected President Shehu Shagari. During his rule, Nigeria’s secret police service was given unparalleled levels of power, heavily cracking down on public dissent. The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No.2 of 1984 allowed for indefinite, incommunicado detention of Nigerian citizens. Today, Buhari reclaims a political and economic climate similar to that of his 1980s term: falling oil revenue, high unemployment, and a devalued naira. While his austerity measures and rejection of an IMF appeal then might not have made the necessary reform his country needed, it nonetheless demonstrated a resolve that Buhari strives to reiterate as he pledges to weed out corruption, bring stability, and encourage opportunities for direct investment and employment for the primarily youth driven country.
While these free and fair elections set a precedent, and served as an indicator of stability in a period of volatility not seen since the height of the Nigerian civil war, it is not without hesitation that Nigeria welcomes their new president. In his speech to the Chatham House in London in February, Buhari issued the following statement, “I have heard references to me as a former dictator. I take responsibility for whatever happened under my watch.” If he manages to keep up this invaluable trend of transparency and accountability, however, Buhari will have already made leaps of progress.
- Sabine Teyssier