Nigerians are contemplating a new era for their country after Muhammadu Buhari won the presidential elections. I lived in Nigeria for almost 15 years and would call it a “Nigerian spring” after decades of corruption. The retired general who was once in power 32 years ago through a military coup has been trying to get back to power for some time now. During the last 15 years, the 72-year-old contested the top job for three times in 2003 2007 and 2011.
Now that he’s achieved his goal, the job awaiting isn’t easy. He inherits a weak economy in a country mostly dependent on oil, it’s also socially and politically volatile with a weak infrastructure and a deteriorated electricity sector. He hopes that the support from the Northern and western parts of the country where he got most of his votes will aid him in the upcoming days.
I try to shed light on what the man will face after he is sworn into power on May 29.
The economic situation
Heavy reliance on oil by the country has led to a hard time for the economy, whereas many sectors in the have not used sufficiently like mining, agriculture and fishing. The drop in oil prices earlier this year has led to a deterioration in the local currency value significantly, which in turn, has had an impact on commodity prices. Buhari supporters claim his character as a strict man with tendency towards austerity and cutting public spending is the key towards fixing the country’s economy.
For a long time, Nigeria has had a record in financial and administrative corruption, which resulted in having 70 percent of the population under poverty line especially in the northern states and the oil producing states in the south. Buhari will have to work on rooting out corruption through an example of good governance and having public servants accountable. There will be a need for adjusting the compass of government institutions into the correct direction and this applies to organisations like the National Oil Corporation. Of course it will not be an easy task, given the deep indulgence of corruption in Nigeria.
It has seemed to be a surprise, that the northern states where Boko Haram operates haven’t seen much violence during the presidential election period or any breach of the voting process. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan has tried to gain popularity in those states by staging a fierce offensive against the group in the last six weeks. Yet these states didn’t vote in his favour. It was a landslide win for Buhari. He will have to address the top problem in the country for the last five years with a death toll exceeding 2,000 and hundreds of thousands of displaced. Development of these areas and resolving this conflict should be a top priority.
Social security and human rights
Buhari has been accused during his campaign of being a radical person seeking to “Islamise” Nigeria, and his opponents are voicing concern over his human rights record shedding light on his time in power which has seen many abuses against civilians like military trials. At the same time, the sectarian crisis which has been plaguing Nigeria especially in the centre of the country where the dividing line between the predominantly Muslim north and the south is located. He will have to call for a nationwide reconciliation between different tribes and religions in the country.
Nigerians will be watching closely the formation of the next government, and the man will be obliged to clarify his policies for the next phase. Surely it will not be easy in a country with a population approaching 200 million people, yet I hope it will be a Nigerian spring in the making for the African giant.
Abdullah Elshamy was Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Nigeria for several years.