1. Quite frankly, the recently concluded presidential election was a tad too close. In a country of some 170 million folks, this means the vote could easily have swung the other way with a few million, more or less, votes. It would, therefore, be hasty to conclude that the 2015 presidential elections fully reflect the will of “all” Nigerians. But, that is the essence of republican democracy, the simple majority decides the national course. If his acceptance speech can be relied on, then General Buhari seems to understand this divide, and he has started upgrading himself from the APC candidate to the leader of all Nigerians.
2. More remarkably, however, is that Nigerians (irrespective of their political choices) were willing to trust their fate to the electoral process without the usual government interference. This is unprecedented. And so, the process was able to work smoothly because each component delivered: the candidates were conciliatory, the electoral agency was manifestly neutral and the citizens were largely peaceful. There is no hero in this election, there were only participants who played their roles as expected. This is a pointer to the maturing democracy of Africa’s most populous country.
3. Yet, there is still a more fundamental issue to consider: Nigeria is not new to changes in government, but it has had few radical changes in policy. For instance, the bureaucratic machinery of the civil service has not undergone any serious reform since its original creation; and though the style of government has changed through parliamentary, military and presidential systems, Nigerian domestic and foreign policy has remained ambiguously consistent throughout. The issues have not changed much in the last thirty to fifty years: corruption, energy and security are still crisis areas in the country.
This stagnant landscape has been rather upsetting to most Nigerians, and the “business as usual” idea was made even more glaring under the sixteen year reign of the current ruling party.
In short, democracy did not deliver on its promise of socio-political catharsis.
Nigerians may not have articulated it as such, but a deliberately expressed redirection of domestic policy is the “change” they have always wanted. Not more roads, not more hospitals, not more airports. Yet, ideological vagueness by political parties has always made this goal difficult, if not impossible to attain.
Consequently, many Nigerians have come to see changes in government simply as a hard reset with no guarantees. A gamble of sorts, in fact.
This was done in 2011, but the Goodluck Jonathan administration proved that such gambles can become too expensive. And so, this election, unlike others, became more than just a contest between two parties. Instead, it graduated into a “Yes-No” referendum on the current government. Not a few Nigerians who voted for the opposition did so as a protest against the Jonathan administration than out of genuine confidence in the opposition’s ability to deliver.
And so, we now have another reset.
“Change” has been the keyword for this election. But the new administration has to prove to Nigerians that “change” can mean far more than the mere replacement of public officers. It may seem trite, but change really is a state of mind.
It’s time to Sai Nigeria!