The recent election of General Buhari as the next President of Nigeria is a victory for Nigeria in many ways. The first is that it shows that Africa’s largest country and biggest economy can rise above skepticism and cynicism, both from within and outside the country, in embracing a new way of conducting free and fair elections. This election has produced a new Nigerian hero in President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who has cemented his place in history by his magnanimity and graciousness in defeat. He will be remembered for a long time as the first president in Nigeria’s history to organise a credible election, even when doing so meant the loss of power for him and his party. Failed and flawed elections have been the Achilles heel of Nigerian democracy. They have led to war, violence, and destruction of lives and property in the history of Nigeria, going back to the 1963-64 elections. Many Nigerians had feared that the bloodbath which followed the June 12, 1993 annulled elections by General Babangida and the heating of the national polity in 2007 by President Obasanjo’s failed attempt to perpetuate himself in power could have occurred if not for the statesmanship and character of President Goodluck.
The second point is that this victory is a vindication of the true character of the Nigerian people. Nigerians can rise to the glorious heights of excellence and character when they are motivated by higher purpose. Nigerians can work hard when they are determined at resisting the normalisation of kleptocracy, exploitation of the people and the abuse of the privilege of office by elected officials. Nigerians are resilient people. They desire and deserve a good government and a nation of justice, peace and prosperity. So in a real sense, this election could mark the beginning of the transformation of Nigeria and her peoples. But this is only the beginning of a marathon and not simply a sprint.
Nigerians have voted for a change of direction in returning General Muhammadu Buhari to the state house. Majority of Nigerians have placed their trust in him because of his famed discipline, simple lifestyle, honesty and integrity of life and unvarnished moral conduct in public service. Buhari seems to me to be a man on a mission. His conduct during the electioneering campaign, his utterances during the election and since his victory, his general carriage and sober and pensive demeanour bespeak a man who has a date with history and who is aware of the burden of responsibility which lies on his lean shoulders. However, I am slow in anointing Buhari as the newest Nigerian saint; time shall tell.
Nigeria is a complex nation with convoluted problems and challenges. Nigeria needs a president with a great insight and wisdom; a visionary strategist; a big picture imaginative pragmatist; and a person with a strong and enduring ethical character. Nigeria needs a president who is strong enough to swim against the current of tribalism, religious bias, and crony capitalism which characterise party politics in Nigeria, and one who is flexible enough to think outside the box. This way such a president can canalise the divergent cultural and religious streams of the nation into a calm and fresh confluence of opportunities for a smooth sail of our nation’s ship.
Buharism, which Nigerians have embraced, comes with a lot of hope but with so many limitations. Many Nigerians believe that Buhari’s toughness and personal conduct may be the only weapon in his armoury for creating a new national ethical template. He might become the Father of the Nation and a political evangelist who changes Nigeria through his exemplary life and utterances. Nigerians believe that Buharism may be the architecture for the birth of a modern Nigerian nation. But that modern Nigeria cannot be built through a whole scale Westernisation of Nigeria or through embracing neo-liberal capitalism and some of the death-dealing clinical economic orthodoxies and normative deterministic political ideologies from Chatham House, Cato Institute, or Foreign Affairs. If Buhari will be the architect of a modern Nigerian state and an African statesman he must understand the changing landscape of world politics, and the challenges and opportunities which Africa faces in the ensnaring hegemonic political and economic web spurned by the West.
For President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, the task has just begun. He must remember that Nigerians once danced like they did at his election victory when Obasanjo was inaugurated as president in 1999. That was when Nigeria emerged from many years of darkness and from the two twin peaks of evil and malfeasance – the regrettable regimes of the two most repressive and brutal dictators in my living memory in Nigeria, Generals Babangida and Abacha. However, 16 years after President Obasanjo, the living conditions of ordinary Nigerians are getting worse, while whole scale corruption and impunity have taken over the nation. Many South Africans did rejoice when Mandela came to power too, but 25 years after many Black South Africans are still living in poverty. When Barak Obama was elected the first Black President, many African-Americans danced on the streets, but today, more than six years later, I am not sure how much their lot has changed. Obama, no doubt, has done greatly as a president but the point being made here is about expectations: hope is not achievement.
Claiming that one will fight corruption or that one will restore the fortunes of Nigeria does not mean that this will actually happen. Obasanjo made the same pledge, so did Goodluck Jonathan. Nigerians received the same pledge from both Balewa and Zik when Nigeria got independence in 1960. We must go deeper into the verities and contradictions of our history in order to find the critical realism and noble performances required for an irruption of a new urgency and agency within the historical process. This is the only way to bring about the change of the central historical consciousness of a people. This is so important for Africa because there is much more that is needed in Africa beyond successful change of governments. Western liberal democracy has its many advantages but Africa and Nigeria should find an African model of government. Such model may take many lessons from the West, but it must go beyond the winner-takes-all mentality to consensus building and from the dialectical tension and struggles of a ruling party against opposition party, and the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. It should be something closer to an African sense of community, where everyone belongs to the family and where the interest of all is the central concern and task of everyone.
My hope is that Buhari will first seek to unite this nation under a common purpose. He should become the President of all Nigeria and not succumb to the failed sectional politics, nepotism and cronyism of the PDP. Buhari must reject the exploitative political machine of some Northern oligarchs before him, which continue to put doubt in the hearts of many South-Easterners, Middle Belters, and South-Southerners about the evangelical purity and nationalistic intentions of Northern politicians of the Hausa-Fulani extraction. Buhari must take the extra step to show the nay-sayers that he is truly a detribalised Nigerian and a lover of all Nigerians from the creeks of the Niger Delta to the dry dusty plains of Damaturu, and from the slums of Ajegunle, to the crowded shanty towns of Gwagwalada.
Second President-elect Buhari must run a corruption-free government by first modeling in his own life a corruption-free and modest presidency. This will begin with the team he assembles around him and the perks he will dole out to them. If those who form his core team and cabinet members are people who have dipped their hands in the national till, then his anti-corruption mantra would suffer a premature death. The culture of waste in the corridors of power in Nigeria is simply sinful and cries to God for vengeance, especially given the heart-wrenching poverty of many Nigerians. The crony capitalism, shameless nepotism, and naked abuse of power and the patron-client ties of suasion and ‘settlement’ which characterise party politics in Nigeria simply cannot continue and is unsustainable. The brazen daily theft of Nigeria’s oil wealth and the neglect of the region where this wealth comes from is an unjust structure of sin, which needs to be dismantled if Nigeria will move forward. As St. Augustine wrote in his City of God, “a state without justice is simply comparable to a land of robbers”. Poverty — not ethnicity or religious differences — is the greatest cause of violence in Nigeria. There is no economic blueprint which will succeed in Nigeria with the level of waste and corruption in the land and without a just approach to spreading Nigeria’s wealth to the least of the brethren, whilst rewarding those who work hard and those who play by the rules.
Third, Buhari must bring back our girls. The first duty of the president is to guarantee the security of life and property. Nigeria is too big a country and too strong a country to be held in bondage by a few conscienceless husks of humanity who are parading themselves as Islamic militants. These are cultural anarchists and criminals who should be defeated and brought to trial, either in Nigeria or in their respective countries, as I am convinced that some of these fighters are from other parts of Africa. But we must treat them with love because they are the products of our failed government and our failed national culture.
Finally, Buhari needs our prayers and patience.
However, he should not replace the phony Christian prophets and ministers who surrounded Presidents Obasanjo and Goodluck with Muslim imans, marabouts and spiritual troubadours. The separation of religion and state which is enshrined in Nigeria’s secular constitution needs to be enforced. The thirst for some theocratic state in Nigeria has proven a waste of time. It needs to be added by way of conclusion that no single individual can successfully transform Nigeria without an ethical and moral transformation of Nigerians. Nigeria has a dysfunctional value syndrome which needs to change if the country will move forward. So true are the immortal words of the Greek philosopher Socrates, “the brilliant statesman had enriched and embellished the city; had created protective walls around it; had built ports and dockyards; had launched navies; had eternalized the glory of the city by the temples of undying grandeur and beauty; has multiplied in Attica the feasts of arts and reason; but he did not occupy himself with the problem of how to make Athenians better men and women. As a result his work has remained incomplete and his creation cadulous.”
Stan Chu Ilo is a Research Professor with the Center for World Catholicism and Inter-Cultural Theology, DePaul University, Chicago, USA.