The Advantage Buhari’s Presidency Offers Nigeria

The way the West (North America and Western Europe) understands democracy is this: First, one party can never be too good to win elections continuously for a long time while others are consigned to being in the opposition; second, one person cannot be too good to win elections for more than two tenures, least of all to continue “winning” until the person dies in office.

Therefore, any time the West sees an opposition party beat a ruling party or an incumbent , it sees such as true democracy. That was why President Barack Obama visited Ghana in 2009, the first sub-Saharan country he visited as the United States’ president. He described Ghana as a model for African democracy. The party of former President Jerry Rawlings, the National Democratic Congress, had lost the presidency to the New Patriotic Party in 2000. In 2008, the NDC beat the NPP to regain the presidency.

In , this year’s victory of the , led by , met the idea of the West of what true democracy represents. The full-hearted concession of defeat by the then also added the icing on the cake. That act deviated from the usual African trend that causes conflicts and deaths. Many Africans have said that the way Nigeria’s election and handover went smoothly made them proud and gave other countries a good example to copy rather than the negative political narratives that usually emanate from Africa, where power is seen as the breath of life to cling to with desperation.

If Jonathan had won the presidential election – no matter how transparent and credible the election was – the world would have treated the result with some measure of disdain and scepticism, because he was in power and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, had been in power since 1999.

Therefore, is coming in at a time the world is feeling happy with Nigeria and wishing that Nigeria’s democracy would continue to mature and get less acrimonious.

Secondly, Buhari is coming in with the image of a sanitiser. In spite of the gradual rise of Nigeria in the transparency index of Transparency International in the last few years, the country is still seen as one where corruption is rife. It is not just corruption in political circles, it is also corruption that permeates the daily dealings of the common people.

Buhari has been known as a man that lives a simple life. He has not been known to have amassed wealth during his public service. Therefore, he is seen as the Hercules that would clean the Augean stables. His challenge would be his ability to achieve tangible results now that he is not a military ruler that can enforce things by decrees and coercion.

The third reason is that there is renewed hope that Nigeria is about to be rebuilt. One big challenge Jonathan faced was that most of those who opposed him could not draw a line between opposing him and opposing Nigeria. As far as they were concerned, any news item that was positive about Nigeria conferred some political advantage and popularity on Jonathan. Therefore, they worked hard to ensure that such positive stories about Nigeria were downplayed or pooh-poohed. That was why any attack by Boko Haram anywhere in Nigeria was usually hyped but any success recorded against the Boko Haram was either glossed over or ridiculed. Many Nigerians preferred to give Niger Republic or Cameroon credit for successes recorded by the Nigerian military. Even when other countries made fun of Nigeria, such people saw it as a minus for Jonathan and joined in the ridicule or vilification of Nigeria.

But with Buhari, the language of such people has changed. One can hear them these days saying things like: “Let us pray for Nigeria; God bless Nigeria; It is well with Nigeria,” etc. Such an attitude motivates a leader.

The flip side is whether those who oppose Buhari’s Presidency will adopt this same attitude of castigating Nigeria in the name of making the President unpopular. But true patriots draw a line between criticising their government and ridiculing their country. In all situations, the nation should come first before party or candidate.

However, that renewed hope that Nigeria will be rebuilt puts enormous pressure on Buhari. The people are virtually expecting magic from Buhari. Patience is not one virtue Nigerians are blessed with. football fans would praise the Nigerian national team for the 20 minutes of the first 45 minutes and then start chanting: “All we are saying – give us one goal!” If by the second half the team has not scored a goal within 15 minutes, then the Lagos fans may turn against them. That is the way Nigerians react to their political leaders. So, Buhari should start with the easy-to-prosecute assignments and get quick results that will sustain his popularity. In management, it is better to underpromise and overperform than to over-promise and underperform. Buhari and the All Progressives Congress over-promised and raised the people’s expectations. The onus is on them to ensure that those expectations are met as quickly as possible. Even though Nigerians are impatient people, they can also show good understanding if they see that there are honest and concrete efforts towards achieving results. They can also be easily wowed with little achievements and populist actions and words. Leaders who understand the psyche of Nigerians would give them such intermittently.

Buhari is coming in with the media on his side. So, he will be getting good headlines and photo captions. Suggestions and ideas will be offered to him. Some of his negative actions and inactions will be downplayed for a while so as not to be seen as antagonistic. But the honeymoon will not be long. It is in his hands to make the honeymoon last as long as possible by the type of policies and pronouncements he makes.

Finally, Buhari’s victory and Presidency will offer the nation the opportunity of seeing what the has to offer. Nigerians now have the opportunity to taste another party. Nigerians can then compare and contrast the with the APC and decide which is sweeter. Also, the PDP’s loss will purge it of all traces of arrogance. For the first time, the PDP has become the opposition party. If a president like Jonathan was not in power during this last election, such might not have happened. In spite of the victory, the APC knows that it cannot be complacent. For decades, Nigerians had hungered for the power to be able to sack and recruit their leaders, but they were denied that right until recently. The improvement the Independent National Electoral Commission added to our electoral system was also important. The power of godfathers deciding the winners of elections was drastically reduced. But that did not entirely eliminate electoral fraud.

Buhari has the onerous task of ensuring that the electoral system under him is better than whatever Jonathan left behind. That will start from his choice of the replacement for Prof Attahiru Jega, whose term as INEC chairman expires this June, and the amount of independence he grants the electoral body. Buhari should not be concerned with using INEC to make APC win the governorship elections that will take place next year in Ondo and states as well as the general election in 2019. His concern should be to perform so well that the electorate will prefer his party during elections. That is true democracy.

Power has been handed over to the electorate. Buhari is a beneficiary of that novelty. He must nurture and strengthen that for the good of Nigeria.

Written by AZUKA ONWUKA, follow him on Twitter @BrandAzuka

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