Fears of political bloodshed in Nigeria appear to have been averted for now, after incumbent Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat in the presidential election against Muhammadu Buhari. The election is likely to usher in the beginning of a crucial new era in Nigerian society, one plagued by corruption and Islamic extremism.
A former Major General in the Nigerian Army, Buhari led a military coup against the civilian government on the 31st December 1983 and ruled as dictator until behind deposed by another coup in August 1985. During his short period of rule, Buhari became known for his fierce stance against corruption, his promotion of an ultra-disciplined society, his economic failings and his disregard for human rights.
His victory is a testament to the weak rule of Jonathan, who failed to stem government corruption or halt the brutal onslaught of Boko Haram in the north of the country. Buhari, unlike Jonathan, is a Muslim and hails from the north where he remains extremely popular. This relates not just to his religious affiliation but also results from his reversal of a Chadian occupation of disputed islands in Borno State back in 1983.
This latter point is important, for Chad has been a vital partner of Nigeria in its attempts to halt Boko Haram. With the Nigerian Army widely perceived as corrupt, underperforming and lacking in morale, the continued support of the Chadians, who have proved themselves highly competent in the field, is crucial.
Another challenge, given Buhari’s record as a military ruler, will be the preservation of democracy. Yes, Nigeria’s political system remains deeply flawed yet its democratic institutions are still in their infancy. It may be argued that a retrenchment of democracy may be necessary to ensure the security of Nigeria – something Buhari used to justify his 1983 coup – potentially encouraging an unacceptable restriction on the political and social freedoms of civilians. This cannot be allowed to happen, even if Buhari understandably advocates tougher punishments against criminals and terrorists.
Whilst Jonathan has conceded defeat for now, there is still the possibility that he will not go quietly, with allegations of electoral fraud and vote rigging already circulating. Even if Jonathan stays clear of the fray, his Christian supporters within the military and society as a whole may take a dim view of a new president who has supported the enforcement of sharia law in Nigeria’s northern states.
Sectarian violence, intensified by the ruthless extremists of Boko Haram, is a worst case scenario for Nigeria but one that is inherently possible. Buhari will need to demonstrate his renowned steadfastness and incorruptibility if this wonderfully rich and diverse state is truly to reach its potential as an independent and unified nation.