Despite the professed shocking nature of all daily news; very little occurs on the planet that’s monumental. This election was one of them. Nigeria’s been independent for 55 years but has never transferred the institutions of political power except via a lot of guns.
Once a country accepts that peaceful transition to the opposition is, you know, a thing? It typically (though not always) heralds a new era of slowly increasing prosperity. A bright future can await. Just ask Nigeria’s nearby neighbor in Ghana that’s had three successful transitions to the opposition and remains arguably one of the planet’s greatest recent success stories.
Yet let’s not get carried away here. Muhammadu Buhari isn’t necessarily the best guy to carry this banner. At various times in his life he’s held the delicious titles of brutal-dictator, coup-dude, religious-hate-baiter, and sore-loser.
At the very least, he should kindly thank Goodluck Jonathan for handling electoral defeat in a far more gracious manner than he ever did. And in the end, this election was as much about Nigeria’s voters punishing Jonathan for his galactic scale of failure.
Buhari’s not guaranteed success just because he’s seen as incorruptible and a strongman. Buhari is not Lee Kuan Yew and Nigeria is not Singapore. In a country that’s just slightly bigger than a small pocket-sized-city-state, I don’t think Buhari can get away with caning people into not stealing taxpayer money.
It’s important to remember Buhari hasn’t really ever run anything. He was Dictator & Overlord for a brief period thirty years ago. Since then, he’s never really held significant executive power. How will he use it? We shall see. But two things give me great pause:
1) Nigeria’s voters have wildly high expectations that Buhari’s not going to be able to meet
They think this guy can defeat Boko Haram, ruin corruption, grow the economy, and beat Satan in poker just because he’s there. This is the problem with young (and old) democracies, voters have yet to (will never) accept the idea that institutions matter more than a single personality. Buhari’s just one guy. Nigeria’s governing institutions remain the same mess they were yesterday. Will the voters have the patience to let things improve over time? Will they give Buhari the consistent determined support he needs to effect change? Does Buhari, an old street fighter, have the tolerance to work this via the long democratic haul, or will he choose force over wisdom?
2) Is Buhari just going to change the guard?
It’s important to remember that Buhari’s opposition APC party won, in part, because a whole bunch of guys from Jonathan’s PDP jumped ship. In other words, a whole bunch of crooks from the PDP are now back in power. They sponsored Buhari and are certainly expecting the payback they desire. In consistently corrupt democracies, you can change power, change the guard, and all that happens is it’s just somebody else robbing the country. Buhari’s going to have to seriously prove he means it. How? Nigeria’s anti-corruption commission has been a joke. If Buhari cuts them loose, if they start to put people in jail, then we’ll know.
So good point, Nigeria is far from perfect, but I agree, the peaceful transition of power is also a very good development, as far as it goes.
One thing that caught my ear when I first heard the news was the participants’ ages. I think the outgoing president is 57, the incoming president 77—regardless of the difference, neither of them is a young man, and I imagine Mark Steyn would remark that endless coups and assassinations and other non-peaceful transitions are a young man’s game. I hear that the world’s demographics are changing—certainly in countries like America and Japan, but even in the more robust populations, the age distribution is getting older. Mark Steyn suggested a few years ago that this could be one contributing factor in the extremely low level of looting after the Fukushima disaster or some other disaster. I assume an aging population isn’t mostly a good thing, but maybe one side effect will be to make peaceful democracies that much more feasible.
How interesting that in Nigeria, you’re saying that it’s not just an older population, but the same individuals, now older—at least one of them used to be some kind of warlord or mobster, but maybe he’s ready to try a less violent style now that he’s near retirement age?
Nigeria’s going to stay young for a long time. Japan’s birth rate is 1.4, well below replacement rate of 2.1, while Nigeria’s around 5.5, still too high to find jobs for them all. But if you’re going to pick your problem, I’d rather take the higher birth rate. Depending on your financial / demographic math, you can make the argument that Japan’s quite literally doomed no matter what they do.
Hopefully with three decades of experience behind him, Buhari’s moved beyond the coup-dude mentality. I think he has. But whether that makes him ready to function as an effective leader? Not sure about that. We’ll see.