Nigeria’s electionS -2                                                           02.04.2015

Hail to democracy


Mr Buhari will be hamstrung from the start by an economy that relies massively on oil for government revenue and foreign exchange. The federal coffers have emptied as the price of oil has tumbled. Mr Buhari says he will make up the difference by cutting waste and corruption. Yet some of his most senior party men are crooks.

Moreover, as a Muslim from the north, Mr Buhari may find it hard to contain violence in the Niger delta, in the south. Fighters in that oil-producing region laid down their arms in 2009 and have since grown fat on amnesty payments and dodgy security contracts. Some of them promised to return to war if Mr Buhari’s lot, who are expected to do away with the expensive peace pact, won.

Mr Jonathan, a Christian from the delta, had banked on landslide wins in that region. He did notch up a hefty vote there, but people failed to turn out for him in the same dedicated masses as Mr Buhari’s fans in the north. In Kano, the second most populous state, almost 2m people queued for hours in the baking sun to cast their votes for him, whereas Mr Jonathan’s tally there was paltry. Mr Buhari also won Lagos, Nigeria’s burgeoning commercial capital, whose GDP exceeds that of many west African countries. He swung a lot of voters who had previously backed Mr Jonathan onto his side in the south-west and in the so-called middle belt, defying the conventional wisdom that Nigerians vote almost entirely along ethnic and religious lines.

The poll was still marred by technical glitches, Boko Haram terror and concerns that the electoral commission might succumb to political interference in collating the figures. But Attahiru Jega, the commission’s indefatigable head, has received well-deserved plaudits for maintaining his independence in overseeing the process. He withstood government pressure to ban new permanent voter cards and biometric readers which, despite teething problems, made box-stuffing harder. “Analogue rigging met digital countermeasures,” said Tunji Lardner, a civil-society campaigner. “Analogue lost.”

The current government has another two months in power. A peaceful handover at the end of May would send a telling signal to leaders elsewhere in Africa, some of whom want to breach their constitutional term limits. Meanwhile Nigerians hope that their first-ever ejection of an incumbent president at the ballot box marks the maturing of their democracy. “If things are not better with Buhari”, says Aisha Musa, a housewife in Kano, “we will get rid of him in four years’ time.”




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