THE dawn of change is here, after a long anticipated wait that lasted 59 days. Since the historic call made by former president Goodluck Jonathan to his successor on the afternoon of March 31 that simmered all post-election hostilities, all eyes had looked forward to today, May 29, with bated breath.
The transition was expected to be anything but smooth, considering that this is the first time in the nation’s history there would be a change of government from a political party to its bitterest rival. But it was a small hill to surmount for the people’s general, who had not only fought wars, but also swallowed the bitter pill of defeat, taking it in his stride after three straight routing in presidential elections.
The March 28 election was heralded with a vigorous, no-holds barred campaign either for ‘change’, as represented by General Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) or ‘continuity’ as proclaimed by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In a never-seen-before manner, blood-dripping and nail-biting crusades from both divides interrupted sanity and polluted the traditional media and social media space.
It was therefore somewhat of an anti-climax for the curtain to have fallen on the general elections in such dramatic fashion, hours before the umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Buhari as President-elect in the early hours of April 1.
The 72-year old president has returned to power 30 years after a military coup masterminded by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd), his then Chief of Army Staff, sacked him as Nigeria’s military head of state. He has also equaled national statesman, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s enviable record of leading Africa’s most populous country at twice.
Buhari has also made history as the first opposition candidate in the nation’s political history to dislodge an incumbent president from power. He had contested for the highest office in 2003, as candidate of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP); in 2007 as candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); and in 2011 as candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
Buhari is not a quitter, one virtue that would readily be required to salvage the country from the precipice of ruin. Defeated in the previous three attempts, he returned from self-imposed political retirement to contest for the highest office again, becoming victorious the fourth time, and bringing home the story of former United States president, Abraham Lincoln, who tasted several defeats at previous elections before getting to the Oval Office.
In 2003, Buhari lost to Olusegun Obasanjo in an election, which European Union (EU) observers reported was marked by widespread irregularities. He lost again to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007, which was widely condemned for rampant rigging, violence, theft of ballot boxes and intimidation.
After Yar’Adua’s death in 2010, Jonathan rose from being vice president to president and squared up with Buhari for the first time in 2011. Buhari had formed the CPC a year earlier, saying it was “a solution to the debilitating, ethical and ideological conflicts in my former party, the ANPP.”
After Jonathan’s victory in 2011, amid accusations of rigging, riots broke out in the North. Armed protesters took to the streets chanting Buhari’s name. More than 800 people were killed in the post-election violence. Buhari issued a statement describing reports of burning of places of worship a sad, unfortunate and totally unwarranted development.
Ahead of this year’s election, Jonathan and Buhari signed a non-violence pact, known as the Abuja Peace Accord in January. On March 26, they renewed their pledge and reiterated their commitment to “free, fair and credible elections.”
Very popular among the poor in the north known as the Talakawas, Buhari was able to dislodge the PDP, which had dominated the political scene since the end of military rule in 1999, with the aid of heavyweight defectors from the PDP but principally the triumph of people power, which like an opera orchestra, loudly chorused Change.
With his military background and spartan credentials, the ‘Change’ campaign was able to warm up to many Nigerians, who felt he possesses just what the country needs to get to grips with not only the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency in the north, but the financial recklessness that characterized the Jonathan years.
A Muslim from Daura in Katsina State, who has given his support to Sharia in the north, Buhari has previously had to deny allegations that he has a radical Islamist agenda. This posed a problem for him in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 polls, when he failed to secure much support among Christians in the south. But haven escaped an attack on his convoy in Kaduna in July 2014, which bore all the hallmarks of a Boko Haram assassination attempt, he has promised to end the insurgency within months.
In 1983, Major-General Buhari and Major-General Tunde Idiagbon were selected to lead the country by middle and high-ranking military officers after a successful military coup d’etat that overthrew civilian President Shehu Shagari on December 31.
In 1985, Buhari was himself overthrown in a coup led by Babangida on August 27th, and other members of the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) were sacked ostensibly, because Buhari insisted on investigating allegations of fraudulent award of contracts in the Ministry of Defence.
His first sojourn in power was a period remembered for strict campaign against indiscipline and corruption. The verdict on the president’s first coming is mixed. About 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed as part of a campaign against waste and corruption.
Some saw this as the heavy-handed repression of military rule. But others remember it as a praiseworthy attempt to fight the endemic graft that prevented Nigeria’s development. He retains a rare reputation for honesty among Nigeria’s politicians, both military and civilian, largely because of this campaign.
It is on this plank of untainted record that so much expectation has been dumped on the president by millions of Nigeria, including those who campaigned vigorously and voted against him. The burden of expectation is enormous at the least and outlandish at best. Something akin to turning stone into bread or water into petrol or as widely circulated on social media, making the dollar at par to the naira.
In summary, Nigerians expect Buhari, starting from today, to do all the things Jonathan didn’t do, and that expectations to be modest, is arduous.
In specifics, one Prince Ajibola Adebayo Odusanya expects the newly sworn-in president to do the following: restructure the power sector, sanitise the oil sector, create jobs for graduates, construct good roads, reduce salaries and allowances of senators, House of Representatives members and ministers, rebuild natural resources to make the country not depend solely on oil and revamp the educational system to standards attained in developed countries.
Buhari’s campaign was also fiercely anti-corruption. He ran to office under the slogan of “new broom,” the symbol of the APC as against the ruling party’s symbol of an umbrella.
The first litmus test for the Buhari presidency will be the colour of his cabinet, which will shape the direction of his administration. In this new age of political awareness where the voter is king, the president would not have for 2019 to know the people’s verdict. The change administration would be assessed right from its first 100 days in office.
The president’s 100 days covenant with Nigerians has been classified into several sub-heads, which include corruption and governance, insurgency and insecurity, Niger Delta, diversity, health, agriculture, management of the economy for prosperity, industrial relations, power, and youth and ICT development.
The first few sentences of the covenant on corruption and governance really excite Nigerians, where the president in a pre-election document had pledged to: “publicly declare my assets and liabilities; encourage all my appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment. All political appointees will only earn the salaries and allowances determined by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMFAC); work with the leadership of the National Assembly and the judiciary to cut down the cost of governance and present a National Anti-corruption Strategy.”
The promised change has arrived on a fresh clean sheet of unadulterated goodwill. How this open cheque handed to the president by millions of expectant Nigerians will be spent will be the defining moment of Buhari’s second coming and his place in posterity.