By Nneka Eze and Jeff Kaiser
Nigeria’s recent presidential election marks a historic step for the country as a leader among African nations. Muhammadu Buhari unseated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which ruled the country since its transition to democracy nearly 16 years ago. The election marks a significant shift in Africa’s political landscape and a remarkable opportunity for economic and political reform in Nigeria.
Buhari’s controversial past—his 20-month rule as a military dictator in the mid-1980s replete with imprisonment of dissenters (including Afrobeat music pioneer Fela Kuti) and a “War Against Indiscipline” that prescribed harsh punishments for relatively minor crimes—are today part of his appeal. This election was, in many ways, more of a referendum on incumbent President Jonathan’s performance and perceived weakness than a specific vote in favor of Buhari, who competed in three previous presidential elections and lost each time.
Signs of Progress
The election is one of few recent incidents in Africa given truly global recognition as a success. Media coverage focused on the process, noting that it was largely “free and fair” (though there were many incidents of disturbances at polling units and allegations of fraud from both sides) and the fact that President Jonathan was quick to concede his defeat. Jonathan’s concession came as the biggest surprise to most people in Nigeria, and he is already being hailed as a hero for the move.
Apart from the election, Nigeria does seem to be making giant strides on its democratic and developmental journey. Take Ebola: with Nigeria on the brink of a catastrophic outbreak in Lagos—one of the most densely populated cities in Africa—the Lagos State government acted rapidly, brought in private partners, and mobilized federal resources to fund a robust contact tracing program that reached nearly 100% of contacts in Lagos. The steps worked, and the outbreak was contained to 19 cases, with a survival rate of 60%, well above the survival rate elsewhere.
While Ebola points to a success spearheaded by the government, the fight against Boko Haram is just the opposite. In Borno State in northeast Nigeria, where the government has been highly ineffective in fighting the group, young Nigerians have taken up the fight themselves. Hundreds of young men and women have come together to form a Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)—effectively vigilantes, though they have the approval of state government. They patrol the streets of affected areas and provide local intelligence to security forces.