The Buhari Challenge: Making Nigerian Democracy Work

By Richard Joseph

Nigeria’s president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, has few illusions. He has been in and out of power at the highest level since the 1970s. He has already spoken boldly about tackling corruption and the Boko Haram insurgency. And he recognizes the need to rebuild fractured ties among Nigerian communities and between Nigeria and its global partners.

It can be expected that the United States will no longer be blamed for not providing enough armaments for Nigeria’s ineffective armed forces. No longer should the giant of Africa depend on a small autocratically-run neighbor, Chad, to reclaim its border towns from the insurgency. And no more should office holders pilfer public funds with impunity while their people lack clean water, electricity, and gainful employment.

The clock is ticking. Nigerians were forced to wait six weeks to register their judgment on the Goodluck Jonathan presidency at the polls. They must wait another six weeks to witness the ceremony in which power will be transferred to the new head of state. However they voted on March 28, and in state-level elections on April 11, Nigerians must now rally behind Mohammadu Buhari and the drive to reduce regional, ethnic, and religious tensions.

The Nigerian transition could echo the assumption of power by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa and the building of a rainbow nation. In myriad constitutional exercises over a half-century, the core principles intended to guide Nigerian party politics were identified. It is now up to Buhari and the political class to make the federal democracy work in the interests of a much abused population.

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