Nigeria: Buhari won. Challenges remain

Nigeria’s next president: Muhammadu Buhari beats incumbent Goodluck Jonathan.

Questions:

1. Muhammadu Buhari wins Nigeria presidential election. Why he won in your opinion and what are the biggest challenges he will face in the office (expect of Boko Haram)?

2. How much his strategy for fighting Boko Haram might differ from the current one?

Answers:

Nnamdi ObasiSenior Analyst, International Crisis Group

1. Muhammadu Buhari won the election primarily due to three factors. First, President Jonathan and his party – the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which had been in power since 1999 – had failed to meet citizen’s expectations across the country, particularly in terms of improving livelihoods, fighting the Islamist insurgency in the north east and curbing corruption in government; so most Nigerians wanted him and the party out of power. Secondly, Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC), the first successful merger of the country’s major opposition parties, was able to put up a unified challenge against the ruling PDP, which enabled it to win several southern states which Buhari had never won at earlier elections. Thirdly, Buhari, a northerner, personally had massive following in the northern states, because many in the region felt they had been largely denied the presidential office since the return to democratic rule in 1999.

Buhari will face several challenges. First, coming after an election that deeply polarized the country along regional and religious lines, he faces an immediate challenge of reconciling major groups and interests. In particular, he must strive to pacify the Niger Delta where many now feel aggrieved that the first-ever president from their region (Jonathan) was voted out of office after only four years. Secondly, he will have a huge task meeting citizens’ economic and social expectations which are very high on several fronts, from improving electricity to creating jobs. This will be particularly challenging at a time when government revenues have been badly diminished by the plunge in global oil price and further depleted by massive spending on the elections. Thirdly, he will have to fight the Boko Haram insurgency in the north east more effectively, particularly as his military background was one of the key pillars of his presidential campaign. Fourthly, he will have to wage a vigorous fight against corruption and economic crime, particularly the theft of crude oil that has been hemorrhaging the economy significantly over the years.

2. It is not clear how differently he will fight Boko Haram. Broadly, the expectation is that his military background will be an advantage in providing leadership to the armed forces. Besides that, being a Muslim from the far north, he is likely to find more support and cooperation from religious, ethnic and community leaders in that region, in fighting the Islamic insurgents.

Sola Tayo, Associate Fellow, Africa Programme, Chatham House

1. Buhari won because for the first time Nigeria’s opposition presented a unified front in all parts of the country. They were able to capitalise on people’s fears over the deteriorating security situation and the impact of low oil prices on the economy. The PDP – which has been in power since 1999 – campaigned on “continuity and transformation”. Buhari and his party (the APC) campaigned for “change”. The Nigerian people wanted change.
Muhammadu Buhari will now have to look at the economy. There are lots of black holes in the government’s finances. He will also have to tackle corruption. Of equal importance – he will have to try and heal the country. There will be a lot of nervous and disappointed people who feel aggrieved so he will need to reach out to them – particularly in the South and make them feel that he is also representing them.

2. Gen Buhari is a military man. One of the criticisms of Goodluck Jonathan was that he had no military background and allowed the army to go into decline. With Buhari as president, there will be an expectation on him to restore some credibility and pride to the army. The military has been subjected to a lot of criticism for its seeming inability to put an end to the crisis in the north east. Although recent successes have seen the military turn a corner in the fight against Boko Haram, the army needs more long term bolstering.

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