By Bill Collier- The winner of the March 31, 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria was Muhammed Buhari, a 72 year old former President who, while a coup participant in 1966 and 1975 and a coup leader in 1983, claims to have become "a convert to democracy." His last stint as President, from 1983 to 1985, was as a direct result of a military coup, not an election.
President-elect Buhari is a Muslim from the Yoruba tribe in northern Nigeria, and he is a fierce Nigerian nationalist in a country divided between Housa, Igbo, Yoruba, and other nationalities that many Nigerians place before any Nigerian identity. While a Muslim, Buhari is most certainly not considered to be a Salafist. In fact many Christians voted for him in the election.
He is scheduled to take office officially on May 29th, but in a series of interviews and op-ed pieces posted to international media, he has laid out a program focusing on defeating Boko Haram, increasing education (especially for girls), and fighting corruption. Nigerian corruption is notorious, as one old Nigerian adage had it: if you do not steal from the state, someone else will, so not stealing is denying good things to your family. Buhari wants to change that and a careful review of the many internet forums where Nigerians congregate reveals that Nigerians generally wish to change things in this regard- they are well aware of Nigeria's reputation for corruption and fraud and wish to change it.
But could Buhari be like many leaders in history who start with great rhetoric and sweeping promises but who, in the end, revert to their habits and ingrained patterns of behavior? Much of the international media have already credited Buhari with great things, ingoring his troubled past, and ignoring the fact he has not even taken office yet. His history as a military man and a coup leader certainly cannot be ignored and while he may in the future demonstrate that he has "converted to deomocracy", he hasn't done so yet. Maybe he hasn't, and that's a big "maybe" in a political state that vests so much authority in the hands of its President.
Meanwhile, Goodluck Jonathan continues a caretaker government until May 29, and there are rumblings and rumors that he will not relinquish power peacefully, as no Nigerian President has yet to do. Perhaps this fear that Jonathan will not go peacefully is what has led Buhari into a full-court media press to establish his credentials and legitimacy and convince Jonathan that stepping aside peacefully is the only real alternative.
As for the abuses under his reign from 1983 to 1985, Buhari says he regrets them but he cannot change them. But will he repeat them?