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Buhari hopes to give Nigerians a clean slate


Over the years, Africa has been moving slowly towards democracy both in government and politics. Southern Africa has been a leader, holding elections and replacing presidents in an orderly manner that was mostly violence free. Zambia, Malawi and Namibia did it successfully.

But democracy has always eluded Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most populous state with over 186 million people.


However, democratic elections held in that country over the weekend saw Nigeria score a historic first – that of an elected president being replaced by yet another elected president.

Nigeria, notorious for military coups in the past, fooled the world and managed to stage not only democratic elections but generally peaceful ones with the defeated president courteously calling the incoming president to concede defeat while at the same time urging his supporters to accept the results and assist the incoming government in any way possible.

The world’s fears are rooted in the past political behaviour of Nigeria when military generals took turns to stage one coup d'état after another.


It is precisely because of that track record that the world did not believe Nigeria and the sincerity to hold democratic elections and, if they did, would witness post-election violence.
But all went well.


Muhammadu Buhari, a former Major General in the Nigerian Army, overthrew a civilian government led by Shehu Shagari in December 1983. His reign was, however brief because after about 20 months, he too was overthrown by Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985.


His dictatorship was notorious for what became known as “war on discipline” and saw, for example, soldiers whipping people at bus stops for not standing in a bus queue in an orderly manner.
His rule was accused of severe human rights violations.


So, the 72-year-old former military strongman, who has declared that he, is now a born again democrat, takes over the reins of power at the end of May.


Buhari managed to convince Nigerian voters that he is a reformed man who respects civil liberties. He campaigned on promises to deal with the deteriorating security situation in the northern part of the country and also promised to deal with corruption.


In a country plagued by corruption, insurgency and economic melancholy, critics argue that Buhari’s austerity could just be what Nigeria urgently needs. That he is a reformed dictator remains to be seen.

Sceptics can altogether be forgiven for not trusting the self-professed born again democrat. Déjà vu attacks those old enough to remember the dark days of Buhari’s reign. His insipid human rights track record, like a bad dream, will always come back to haunt him and the rest of the country.


He has a lot of work to do in bringing Nigeria on the right track while at the same time he convinces his fellow Nigerians and the world that he is a changed man.

His war on discipline campaign rubbed many human rights groups the wrong way. During this reign, says Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the war against indiscipline was taken to sadistic levels, glorifying the humiliation of a lot of citizens.

Indeed, his rule saw at least 500 politicians, officials and businessmen imprisoned during a campaign against corruption and waste. Critics of the regime, including musician Fela Kuti, were also jailed.
Buhari’s laws never allowed for trial but indefinite detention.


Other dire lows of his tenure include his imposing of a decree to restrict press freedom, under which journalists were imprisoned.

The controversial leader is also remembered for sending his army men to the streets to enforce discipline. Soldiers with whips would enforce traffic regulations, and civil servants were subjected to frog jumps for arriving late at work.

Also, during his pursuit of discipline, tens of thousands of immigrants from other West African countries were expelled.  

Fast forward to 2015, three decades down the line, questions about the dictator now turned democrat echo now, more than ever.


Not only Nigeria but the world is holding its breath because Nigeria cannot go back to those old days. Nigeria cannot afford to be wrecked by any form of instability.

For many Nigerians, though, there is greater consolation: his military background might go a long way in restoring the nation’s security issues, especially against the Boko Haram Islamists, who have terrorized northern Nigeria for more than a decade now.


“Before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time,” Buhari was quoted as saying in earlier media reports.


He worked hard to allay fears over his past.


He added: "It's a question of security. Whether I was a former military officer or a politician through and through, when there is insecurity of this scale in the country, that takes the priority."

In February, he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “The misappropriation of resources provided by the government for weapons means the Nigerian military is unable to beat Boko Haram." he told.


While Islamist insurgency could have led to the whole nation placing its hope in the self-styled born-again democrat, it remains to be seen how he progresses.


It is worth the wait as yet another former military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo has practically made himself available to Buhari saying in a congratulatory letter that he was ready to assist.


There are, indeed, a lot of expectations to manage for the president-elect.


Buhari has walked into a failing economy, with dropping oil prices, economic stagnation amid tales of corruption and misappropriation of resources.


There is no doubt that a new page has been turned by the people of Nigeria, and one can only imagine their hopes and expectations for their new president, for their country and for their region.


The economy, Boko Haram, corruption, declining oil revenue and many other issues need attention.


So it is not going to be all fun and games for the 72-year-old president-elect.

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