Ballots Are In, Nigeria Tackles New Challenges and Opportunities

by Kehinde Togun   August 1, 2015

This week, Nigeria made history.

The victory of opposition candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari was not a surprise—in the lead up to election day, several polls and analysis began to show a close race but cited the opposition as the likely winner. The surprise was how quickly President Goodluck Jonathan conceded. As he made his call to President-elect Buhari, Jonathan must have known that even in his loss, he was helping to turn a positive page on Nigeria’s history.

Jonathan’s loss was the first time in Nigeria’s 55 year history that a seating president has lost an election. Although given the outcry over the 2003 and 2007 elections, perhaps it’d be more accurate to say it was the first time the announced results reflected citizens’ overwhelming vote against the incumbent. It was also the first time Nigeria’s losing presidential candidate conceded without dangerous rhetoric resulting in unnecessary bloodshed. Many of us still painfully recall the 2011 presidential elections when hundreds of Nigerians died as a result of the post-election violence that ensued.

It is against this backdrop that many are celebrating Nigeria’s victory.

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Prior to the elections there were many reasons for citizens and observers to be concerned. The rhetoric and actions of both parties left a lot to be desired. The opposition at one point said if it lost, the party would form a parallel (not shadow) government. Supporters of the ruling party predicted in a newspaper advert that General Buhari would die before the elections. And there was the six-week extension which many thought was an indication that the president and his party were trying to prolong the campaign period with hopes of depleting the opposition’s coffers.

Many observers agree that Saturday’s elections went well for the most part; although there were many of the glitches one expects from such a large country with fledgling institutions. The election commission, despite having months to prepare and having spent an exorbitant amount of money, performed well but could have done better. Voting was extended by a day in some polling locations because of avoidable delays in the process. As the elections were concluded, all indications were that the opposition candidate was ahead. On Sunday night, reports began to emerge that in some of President Jonathan’s stronghold, the tabulation was being compromised and his numbers were being inflated. Many feared that what had been a mostly credible and peaceful election would take a turn for worse. In the end, the chair of the election commission proved to make the difference. He seemed immune to the shenanigans and was unfazed by the political machinations. As the announcement of results began, it was clear that the opposition would have a significant victory.

Still, President Jonathan’s early concession caught many of us off guard. Whatever his calculation, he deserves credit. Given Nigeria’s place on the continent, the consequence of a protracted election battle could have been disastrous. The successful Nigerian elections will be an example for several African nations who will also head to the polls this year.

As President-elect Buhari begins to prepare for inauguration on May 29, there are a lot of unanswered questions. There are overarching questions about how he will address corruption, diversify Nigeria’s economy, improve security, reduce unemployment, and improve health and education. In truth, President-elect Buhari has an unenviable task. There are other key questions: what type of a leader will he be, given his previous tenure as a military dictator; who he will appoint in his cabinet to signal a break from the past; how he will address Nigeria’s cycle of impunity without witch-hunting the opposition; whether he will allow legislative oversight of the oil ministry or allow the oil sector revenue to continue operating as the president’s piggy bank; if he will publish reports from investigative commissions that his predecessor refused to make public; and, if he will demand that all his senior level officials declare their assets before and during their tenure in office—President Jonathan was adamant about his disregard for asset declaration.

Civil society in Nigeria and those of us working with them are eager to see how democratically elected President Buhari differs from General Buhari. Partners for Democratic Change is supporting organizations like CLEEN Foundation and BudgIT in their efforts to collaborate with government and other civil society to increase transparency in Nigeria. We believe improving delivery of services in the various sectors is intrinsically linked with citizens having information as a means to hold their government accountable. In light of the rhetoric from his campaign, we view General Buhari’s government as a partner who has the best interest of Nigerians at heart and we are all excited about the possibilities that democratic transition holds for Nigeria.

Nonetheless, as we congratulate President-elect Buhari for his win, we are encouraged that the true heroes of this election are the Nigerian people who demanded their voices be heard. With President Jonathan’s concession, Nigerians have proof of what happens when they demand change. President-elect Buhari would do well to write Nigeria’s next chapter in an open-source format so Nigerians can adequately evaluate his administration’s performance.

As we await the gubernatorial elections and results to see the full landscape of Nigeria’s new leadership, we wish the president-elect luck and we congratulate the brave men and women in Nigeria.