After over three decades since seizing and losing power in military coups; after three attempts at getting in through a democratic process; after three days of a tension-filled election, Muhammadu Buhari became the first Nigerian opposition leader to oust an incumbent president through the ballot box. This puts him in charge of Africa’s biggest economy and one of Africa’s most challenging democracies.
Ousted President Goodluck Jonathan in an unprecedented move, called Buhari to congratulate him even before the result had been officially announced. According to Lai Mohammed, a spokesman for Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC),”At about 5 minutes to 5, President Jonathan called General Muhammadu Buhari, the winner of the elections, to congratulate him,”
This smooth concession of victory by Goodluck Jonathan would surely come as a surprise to millions of his supporters especially given that former Minister of Niger Delta, Peter Godsday Orubebe had earlier in a public show of shamelessness and stupidity, attacked the Independent Electoral Commission chairman [INEC], Professor Attahiru Jega, alleging that the result of the elections have been falsified and accusing Jega of bias and partisanship.
Buhari’s victory therefore calls for cautious optimism especially if one where to take a glance at the years since the acclaimed 1999 transition to democratic rule.
With the coming to power of the Obasanjo regime in 1999 as a democratically elected government following several years of military dictatorships, it seemed a new dawn had come for Nigeria. In his opening address to Nigerians, Olusegun Obasanjo raised people’s hopes when he said:
I shall end this address by stressing again that we must change our ways of governance and of doing business on this eve of the new millennium. This we must do to ensure progress, justice, harmony and unity and above all to rekindle confidence amongst our people. Confidence that their conditions will rapidly improve and that Nigeria will be great and will become a major world power in the near future. (The NEWS, June 14, 1999)
But as events later turned out, Nigeria was in for the greatest economic, political and social nightmare. The “democracy” under Obasanjo was one in which one man who called himself the “President” ruled the nation as a personal estate, made mockery of the constitution, controlled the nation’s coffers and dished out money to other nations as if it were his personal account. After eight years in power, the social ills of the Obasanjo regime had clearly held Nigerians to ransom. Poverty was ravaging the land, many people died of curable diseases simply because they could not afford to pay hospital bills. There was even the uncomfortable admission of the fact that the lives and properties of Nigerians were more secure under General Sani Abacha than they were under the so-called democratic regime of Obasanjo. Unemployment and attendant hopelessness rose, the standards of education fell, there was a marked increase in the number of destitute and beggars on the streets. The skyrocketing of the prices of petroleum products, with an increment made on the eve of Obasanjo’s departure form office, was a clear indication of the level of decay the country had been plunged into. Worse still, it was under this regime which claimed to be able to sweep away corruption that Nigeria bagged the highest award in corruption, coming first in the world. To crown it all, the level of election malpractice was one that also deserved an award.. In the end, it was clear that military dictatorship and democratic tyranny are two sides of the same coin.
The late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua and his Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, therefore, inherited an ant-infested firewood. In a few months they gave much hope to the people with the proposed 7-Point Agenda . But the questions of whether the fulfilment of those new ideas and reforms they were introducing could be considered a visionary hope, was never answered due to the untimely death of Yar’Adua. It became obvious that the interests which those new reforms were going to thwart were much stronger and more obvious than those they were to serve when Goodluck completely ignored the 7 point Agenda both during his completion of Yar’Adua’s term and the term which he contested and won.
It is therefore not surprising that Nigeria continued to slump further into the morass of hopelessness that characterised the Obasanjo regime. To make matters worse, despite unrelenting economic forces driving Nigeria to become Africa’s biggest economy, the onslaught of the Boko Haram insurgency exposed the ill-preparedness and inability of Jonathan to lead Nigeria.
It is therefore not very surprising that a majority of Nigerians decided that it was time to give Buhari another chance to redeem himself. His perseverance has finally paid off, and with Goodluck Jonathan showing maturity in conceding defeat, Buhari has a huge challenge ahead. He has the experience, and hopefully, with the determination to set the records straight, Buhari might finally usher in the real dawn of an era where the ordinary Nigerian can begin to feel and experience the real dividends of a true democracy!