Nigeria: Back to the Future?

Silhouettes of People Holding Flag of Nigeria


Julian Fisher writes: ‎

“Historic” and “amazing” are clichés that I try to avoid. But both may apply to the just-concluded Nigerian election. That Africa’s largest economy has overseen a peaceful and democratic transition of power from an incumbent president to an opposition leader mounting his fourth bid for the job through the ballot box is not to be underestimated. I can’t help but feel that African politics will never be quite the same again. This is not least because president-elect Muhammadu Buhari will have greater democratic authority than almost any post-independence leader in Africa, with the obvious exception of Nelson Mandela. It is to be hoped that he exerts this authority during elections elsewhere on the continent, ably assisted by his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo (himself twice elected, though on neither occasion did he face a serious challenge from a national party) as a roving ambassador.

But, without wishing to rain on Nigeria’s parade, I would comment that it is the fact of the transition itself, rather than the personality of the incoming president, that is to be celebrated. As the results trickled in on Monday, one of my followers on Twitter posted a comment “President Muhammadu Buhari. How does that sound?”.

And I thought, “it sounds familiar”.

Lest it be forgotten, Buhari has led Nigeria before, between December 1983 and August 1985. His rule was not altogether auspicious, though he is respected for his attempts to curb official corruption and to build national discipline. Here are some pertinent points to remember about his first presidency:

  • he came to power through a military coup
  • he was deposed by a military coup
  • he passed some of the most draconian legislation seen in Africa
  • he curbed the freedom of the press with alacrity
  • his regime arrested hundreds of oppositionists, including the renowned singer Fela Kuti
  • he was roundly criticised by the Nobel-prize winning writer Wole Soyinka in his publication “The Crimes of Buhari” of 2007.

Of course, Buhari was previously president some thirty years ago and he and his supporters present him as a born-again liberal democrat. He has four years to demonstrate the truth of this.  The world will be watching.


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