Muhammad Buhari: Where Now for Nigeria?

Ahmed Ghoneim Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa, World Politics

Buhari

Newly elected Nigerian President General Muhammadu Buhari on the shuttle bus at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja – 9th May 2015 (Instagram)

Capitalizing on his image as an ‘incorruptible’ leader, ex-general Muhammadu Buhari was the first Nigerian to defeat a sitting president through the ballot box.  Buhari’s landslide victory by nearly 2.5 million votes means that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that has been ruling Nigeria since the imposition of civilian rule in 1999 will now have to take the back seat as the All Progressive Congress ( APC)  takes charge of Africa’s most populated country. With Buhari’s inauguration, Nigeria is the centre of attention once again.

After a peaceful transition of power, mass celebrations and widespread global acknowledgment, the question of the hour is whether Buharis’ promise of change will be fulfilled. More specifically, is the one-time military ruler able to tackle the economic turmoil; the Boko Haram insurgency; and more importantly, will he be able to preserve the volatile social fabric under the banner of a better future for Nigeria’s upcoming generations?

Buhari’s victory does arguably represent in itself a better scenario for Nigeria, particularly taking into account his military expertise and popularity among the predominantly Muslim north; leaving better prospects for tackling Boko Haram. He also holds an impeccable record of incorrupt practices acknowledged by a vast majority of his people. This perhaps is his strongest virtue considering that the country has long been held ransom to corruption, hampering the nation’s potential of becoming a major economic, military and cultural power.

Nevertheless, Buhari now faces two immediate challenges.

The ‘Oily’ South

The APC’s ascendancy to power threatens to stoke regional tensions in the South. Buhari hails from the north, is seen as a military autocrat, and is closely affiliated with the Hausa and Fulani sects. The restive militant groups in the South fear a lack of representation and patronage by Abuja, enjoyed under Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency, and may therefore ramp up dissent across their oil-rich regions. Concerns over the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which essentially protected the South’s oil interests, lie at the centre of this controversy.

MEND had previously terrorized Nigeria’s oil infrastructure, forcing a review into the unequal distribution of wealth during the early 2000s. Goodluck Jonathan benefitted politically from MEND as he was brought into executive office in 2007 as Governor of Bayelsa state for the purposes of representing the formal inclusion of the Delta into Nigerian power politics. Jonathan essentially endorsed the groups’ demands to prohibit future instability over oil revenues and to secure the support of the region in upcoming elections.

So, with their ‘inside man’ out of office, it is indeed likely that the militias of the South may augment its politically-orientated terrorist activities to reinforce their leverage over Abuja.  Recent coverage over Nigeria’s fuel crisis further affirms the need to ensure stability in the geopolitically-vital south to stabilize the locally unaffordable energy prices.

The Boko Haram Saga

Apart from unrest in the south and unstable finances, the biggest issue facing Buhari’s administration is undoubtedly the Boko Haram crisis in the north-east of the country.  Despite the presence of a more stable environment in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, this past month has seen a recurrent effort from Boko Haram militants to retake this key city. With several suicide bombings and attacks close by, civilians are still far from being safe or able to return to their homes as some have suggested in past weeks.

Military success has been gaining momentum since the run-up to the Nigerian presidential elections; nevertheless a hard power based solution will not be enough to defeat the rebel group. The north-east remains an extremely poor region of the country consisting of disenfranchised, illiterate Muslims. Therefore one of Buhari’s main challenges will be addressing their basic needs such as providing electricity and gas and repairing infrastructure to bring a meaningful end to militancy – particularly in Borno state-where Buhari secured 94% of the vote. Increased funding directed towards education, healthcare and security are also essential for the long-term stability of states such as Borno, Yobe and Adamawa that have been under emergency law since 2013.

In light of Boko Haram’s allegiance to the Islamic state, fears of greater outreach, recruitment and technical expertise are also matters to consider during the ongoing counter-insurgency efforts. With signs of spill-over of the conflict in Chad, Cameroon and Niger coupled with a shared ethnicity (Kanuri clan) around these countries’ porous borders, it would be naive to underestimate the regional threat caused by this radical force. The regional military campaign will probably persist for months to come but needs to be part of a broader holistic strategy to re-integrate conflict-inflicted communities.

Saving lives, maintaining territorial integrity and strategic interests are all on the table in this fight against a common enemy which President Buhari will hope to overcome in order to showcase his campaign for ‘change’ and consolidate the APC’s place in power. But before any inaccurate speculation we must wait and see the new appointments on the state level and a revitalized strategy to deal with systematic corruption and wasted economic potential.

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Political and Security Risk Analyst at a London-based risk management firm that works extensively with NGO’s, Developmental agencies, multinational corporations and humanitarians worldwide. Ghoneim’s work has focused more widely on the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa regions with a particular focus on Greece, Egypt and Syria. He has also produced numerous reports and analyses on the Sahel and West Africa regions covering developments in Nigeria, the Lake Chad basin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. Ahmed is also engaged in grassroots initiatives in the UK and abroad, he is currently Head of Communications for Ramadan Tent Project an award winning charity whose patron is renowned writer and professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford Dr Tareq Ramadan. Ghoneim is also a regular contributor to international media outlets which have included MEED, BBC Arabic, The Arab Weekly, The International Interest and the European Interagency Security Forum. Fluent in English, Arabic, Greek and French; Ahmed has completed his undergraduate degree in Sociology at the University of Surrey and an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS University of London).