Has Goodluck given way to bad luck? Nigeria’s recent presidential election and what it means for Nigeria’s future

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Has Goodluck given way to bad luck? Nigeria’s recent presidential election and what it means for Nigeria’s future

Following the closure of the polls in the recent presidential election Nigeria has entered a new era in the country’s history. Never before in the turbulent political history of Africa’s most populous nation has a democratically elected leader been defeated at the ballot box. Whilst this is cause for celebration, it is all so cause for cautious optimism. With the newly elected president Buhari being a former dictator from the 1980s who claims to be a born again democrat, an economy vulnerable since the recent fall in the price in oil and a vicious militant insurgency group, Boko Haram, causing instability and reaping chaos in the rural North of the country, one must ask whether Nigeria’s democracy can survive such ordeals? And will Buhari be able to steer Nigeria through this difficult period?

Even though the vote counting has finished the election is still not over. Bitter recriminations and legal challenges could still ensue before Buhari is inaugurated on the 29th May and there have already been allegations of fraud. Since independence from Britain in 1960, there have been numerous coups and although the 2011 vote was an improvement, most elections have been rigged or even annulled by the military. This precedent does not bode well. In a relatively close election, there will be millions of people who are not pleased with the outcome and with more than eight hundred people having died in a wave of violence after Goodluck beat Buhari in the 2011 presidential election one fears that history may repeat itself.[1] The authenticity of Mr Buhari’s conversion to democracy is also something which should be subject to scepticism. When Buhari ruled Nigeria from 1984 to 1985 before being deposed in a coup he became notorious for his draconian “War against indiscipline” in which civil servants late for work had to do frog jumps and his poor human rights record.[2] Buhari has previously sought the presidency three times and so one must ask whether this conversion to democracy is simply a ploy to help him regain power. Despite these fears the process is a sign that democracy is deepening in Nigeria and may be a tonic to other countries in Africa who continue to be ruled by “strongmen”. Nigerians can now start to believe that it is possible to remove politicians through the ballot box rather than coups.

A history of coups and dictatorships is not the only threat to Nigeria’s democracy. Islamic terrorism in the form of Boko Haram rages throughout swathes of the country, aiming to divide the nation and create chaos in order to establish an ‘Islamic State’ in Nigeria. The presidential election was delayed by six weeks to allow the army enough time to recapture territory from Boko Haram and increase the nation’s stability. Buhari, a retired general and himself having survived an apparent Boko Haram assassination attempt, has vowed to push back Boko Haram and succeed where his predecessor failed. There is strong support for Bahari in the north of the country, in particular the north-east, which has suffered most from Boko Haram, achieving 94% of the vote in the worst affected state, Borno.[3] This suggests that those living in fear of Boko Haram believe he has what it takes to beat the group. Thousands have already died in Boko Haram’s insurgency and as Buhari comes into office the world asks whether those in the north are right.

With many of Goodluck Jonathan’s supporters disillusioned by the results of the election and the nation split amongst religious and ethnic lines there are fears that as Buhari is Muslim and Goodluck Jonathan Christian there could be violence which now erupts in the nation. Historic precedent and the election of a former dictator is further cause for concern. Goodluck Jonathan lost because of his record which was marked by high levels of corruption, economic mismanagement and his failure to tackle Boko Haram or rescue the Chibok girls abducted by the group. With post-election violence and legal challenges still a possibility the world holds its breath. Buhari is seen as an incorruptible “Hardman” who has what it takes to defeat Boko Haram. The question observers ask is whether he will do this at the expense of human rights and democracy in Nigeria?

Written by Nathaniel Robinson