In DepthColumnsHope after the Naija revolution


Posted on Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:45

Hope after the Naija revolution

Nigeria's President-elect Muhammadu Buhari. Photo©ReutersBuhari's test is to show he can run a democratic and multi- faith country at a time of polarisation elsewhere.

For far too long, the mention of Nigeria has elicited an expression somewhere between rolling eyes and pained concern.

In less than seven dramatic days, Nigeria's people have turned all that around.

At last, the politicians have done the right thing!

Almost 30 million Nigerians defied confident forecasts of murder and mayhem to vote in what is now regarded as one of Africa's most credible elections.

It was the popular reply to Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka's lament that "the Nigerian people have always approached democracy, and the elites have always turned them back."

Even the much lambasted political class belatedly rose to the occasion.

When the news broke on 31 March that President Goodluck Jonathan had telephoned to concede and congratulate Muhammadu Buhari, there was an audible intake of breath across the country.

"At last, the politicians have done the right thing!" exclaimed a retired Nigerian ambassador.

Those with a literary bent rephrased Malcolm's epitaph for the Thane of Cawdor in Shakespeare's Macbeth to the effect that "nothing became Jonathan's presidency more than the manner of his leaving it".

In fact, history is likely to be kinder to Jonathan.

His appointment of Attahiru Jega as an avowedly independent head of the electoral commission and his rapid acceptance of its unpalatable ver- dict allowed Nigeria a fresh start.

Strong as the country's new hopes are, they should not obscure the incoming government's doleful inheritance.

The momentum for change could quickly falter if Nigeria has merely exchanged one dominant ruling party for another.

Grand corruption and insecurity are threats that also represent revolutionary opportunities for change.

Claims by former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi that some $20bn in oil revenue from 2012 and 2013 was not paid into the federation account are to be audited as a matter of priority.

Non-excitable industry experts reckon Nigeria loses at least $25bn of its oil revenue annually from theft, crony-capitalist deals and subsidy scams.

Such deals have also deterred productive investment from the burgeoning capitalist class.

If Buhari and his team live up to their pledge to tackle the vested interests responsible for this gargantuan crime, not only will they stabilise the economy but they will ensure this year's positive political shifts become entrenched.

Ending the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east, which has killed more than 12,000 people and displaced as many as three million, is a similarly epic task, partly because of the crash in the army's morale and the corruption of its procurement budgets.

Yet there are few better qualified than former General Buhari to lead military reform.

If it succeeds, the new government – which enjoys almost equal support from Muslims and Christians – can make a bigger point: that a democratic and multi-faith country can be run fairly and inclusively at a time of horrendous religious and political polarisation elsewhere.

All wildly ambitious? But why not, for a country that has pulled itself back from the brink with such style? ●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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