A substantial majority of Nigerians are still struggling to grasp the full meaning of General Muhammadu Buhari’s election to the presidency last Saturday. The overall mood is awash with pride but shaded with angst and a larger question: The future? SAMUEL OGUNDIPE who covered the campaigns and the election intensely writes…
On Tuesday, pro-democracy campaigner turned APC strategist Mr. Biodun Showunmi, spoke with the WESTERN POST during the post-election coverage. “After hearing the news,” Showunmi said, “we were exhilarated, we hooped and hollered and did all sort of jubilation.” It is hard to overemphasise the historical significance of the first opposition party presidential election victory in Nigerian history.
For many in the opposition, and certainly most of the country, Buhari’s victory is an extraordinary step towards the redemption of a deplorable sit-tight syndrome emblematic of African leaders.
It is astonishing, although not for its quickness, coming after almost 55 years after the nation’s independence from Britain. Nigerians are also happy because the palpable fear that gripped the nation was abated immediately after the polls results were announced, a tranquility largely credited to the incumbent Goodluck E. Jonathan’s unprecedented magnanimity.
“Just a little less than 2 years ago,” Cambridge University Professor Anthony Kila told WP Wednesday, “it was inconceivable to any of us that we would see an opposition party candidate become president this soon.”
What is perhaps the most surprising about many Nigerians’ support for the president-elect is that it was not immediate or easy. Many southerners were initially skeptical about Buhari’s candidacy, partly because they regarded him as a religious fanatic due to his effusive championing of the Sharia law in the north, as well as his antecedents as the head of a brutal military junta, which he apparently successfully disabused Nigerians of by campaigning as a “converted democrat.”
Support for Buhari Soared…
The support for General Buhari soared after he won his party’s presidential ticket at their convention in Lagos last December. But there were moments in his campaign when Buhari was forced to manage the issue of religion deftly and explain the unexplainable to a largely educated southern electorate.
Consider the case of his academic certificate, which caused a lot of uproar throughout the month of January. Buhari’s campaign was put on the aggressive defensive after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the nation’s electoral body, published the submitted credentials of all the candidates standing in this year’s presidential elections.
The published document revealed that General Buhari sworn an affidavit to meet the requisites for successful candidacy. The ruling party demanded that Buhari cannot rule the country because he joined the army without required academic qualifications. A legal action was taken on the matter at the courts where it languishes past the date set for the elections.
As the political turbulence continued to muster momentum, Mr. Buhari remained resolute to keep his campaign in focus, suggesting that the scrutiny he faced over his academic background and religion was because of many PDP-orchestrated conspiracy theories that will linger no matter what he does.
Although he received the largest bulk of his votes from his fellow northerners, Buhari’s 2015 candidacy gave inspiration to many of the young, progressive-minded Southerners like Patrick Omolaja, 37, to vote for the first time. At about 9:20 a.m. on March 28, Omolaja showed up at his Magodo GRA, Lagos polling unit to exercise his civic franchise. But, to his dismay, he discovered that there were no electoral officers present. He spent the next 8 hours waiting for the officials with little or no information to guide him on if he’ll be able to vote or not. Many of those who met him at the polling unit disappeared gradually, leaving only 4 of them, he said. He was eventually able to get accredited at about 7 p.m. and cast his vote shortly thereafter.
He says the polling officers were surprised that he could wait for so long.
“They couldn’t believe I could wait for so long,” said the insurance broker father of four Wednesday. “But the election was just too important for me to miss.”
Meanwhile, Folake Awobona, 71, a retired midwife who cast her vote at Olomore Federal Housing Estate, Abeokuta, said she voted Buhari because she believed he would take interest in improving the welfare of the aged.
She said Buhari may be the first president with a first-hand understanding of the need to care for the feeble elderly like herself.
“I just need someone to care for us because our age is now telling on us,” she said. “I have seen the APC manifesto with my friends around here and we see that they had us in mind, the other party did not say anything about our welfare.”
She also said the APC manifesto addressed the issues of both rural and urban housing. “Just look around,” she said after voting, pointing to a long row of blighted buildings inside one of Abeokuta’s largest estates, “you can see we’ve been abandoned for too long and a lot of work will be done in this estate because of guaranteed cooperation between the state governor and the incoming Buhari administration.”
Nigeria’s Democracy Has Come of Age, Says Yusuf Ali
In an interview with WP, pro-democracy campaigner and legal practitioner, Mr. Yusuf Ali, SAN, said the election of General Muhammadu Buhari as the first opposition party president shows “Nigeria’s democracy has come of age.”
“The only reason why democracy in Ghana is rated far above ours is because there’s been a transfer of power from one political party to the other at the center,” he said. “This will clearly change the psyche of not just Nigerians but the black people as a whole because Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world and it accommodates one in five black man alive.
“Nigerians will now be respected across the world for playing a leading role in conquering the sit-tight syndrome of African leaders.”
He also commended incumbent President Jonathan for his remarkable display of statesmanship in conceding the elections to his opponent.
“Goodluck Jonathan knew when to throw in the towel and that has significantly improved our democratic process,” he said.
Buhari’s Election Shatters Ethnic, Regional, Political Barriers
There’s no doubting that Buhari’s victory represents the shattering of many of the ethnic, regional and political barriers that have long been entrenched in Nigeria.
But it is also worth tempering those expectations.
Standing on his balcony, taking crisp breeze at his Gowon Estate, Lagos residence, Elder Idowu Popoola, 67, a construction material merchant, expressed optimism that “Buhari will improve the economy for the betterment of all Nigerians.” “I will be very patient with him because I know it’s going to take time.” Shortly after Buhari’s victory filtered across the country, a throng of APC supporters jubilated outside his party’s campaign headquarters and beamed a row of covers featuring the president-elect and his wife, Aisha.
“Our country is showing its forward evolution, that the political party one belongs to cannot inhibit any individual from becoming the president, and that’s worthy of celebration,” Chief Jubril Martins-Kuye, former Minister of State for Finance and a PDP chieftain, told WP Wednesday. General Buhari’s victory came at a moment of widespread disillusionment with President Jonathan who’s regularly derided as “clueless” by many on APC side, amongst the sentiment that propelled the party to power. From education to corruption to public infrastructure, the APC is not likely to enjoy its honeymoon for long, a dreaded reality that some of Buhari’s closest associates say they’ll work hard to avoid. “Of course we’re very, very happy that we won the election,” said Mr. Gbenga Olorunpomi, a media aide to Vice-President-elect, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, “but we’re very aware that there’s a lot of task ahead of us, and we’re working tirelessly to make sure that we deliver.”