The Commonwealth Observer

An awkward, horrific Nigerian choice: former dictator or failed president  

nigeria
Murray Burt
Written by Murray Burt

Can a former general, Muhammadu Buhar, in his time an oppressive Nigerian dictator, beat out a rich faltering failure, the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan who has been muddling through war and governance of Africa’s wealthiest country since 2010?

The next presidential election late this month will settle that.

Neither is a great option. When Nigeria next goes to the polls to chose a new head of state who best will face problems so large—from rampant corruption to a jihadist insurgency—that they could break the country apart, with dire consequences for Nigerians and the world?

They’ll be dealing with Africa’s biggest economy as it stages its most important election since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999, and perhaps since the civil war four decades ago. Nigerians must pick between, one who has proved an utter failure, and the opposition leader with blood on his hands. The next bosses of a shattered political system make all Nigeria’s problems even more intractable.

Start with Mr Jonathan, whose People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has run the country since 1999 and who stumbled into the presidency on the death of his predecessor in 2010. The PDP’s reign has been a sorry one. Mr Jonathan has shown little willingness to tackle endemic corruption. When the governor of the central bank reported that $20 billion had been stolen, his reward was to be sacked.

Worse, on Mr Jonathan’s watch much of the north of the country has been in flames. About 18,000 people have died in political violence in recent years, thousands of them in January in several brutal attacks by Boko Haram, a jihadist group that claims to have established its “caliphate” in territory as large as Belgium. Another 1.5m people have fled their homes. The insurgency is far from Mr Jonathan’s southern political heartland and afflicts people more likely to vote for the opposition. He has shown little enthusiasm for tackling it, and even less competence. Quick to offer condolences to France after the attack on Charlie Hedbo, Mr Jonathan waited almost two weeks before speaking up about a Boko Haram attack that killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of his compatriots.

The single bright spot of his rule has been Nigeria’s economy, one of the world’s fastest-growing. Yet that is largely despite the government rather than because of it, and falling oil prices will temper the boom. The prosperity has not been broadly shared: under Mr Jonathan poverty has increased. Nigerians typically die eight years younger than their poorer neighbors in nearby Ghana.

Should a former dictator with such a record be offered another chance? Surprisingly, many Nigerians think he should. One reason is that, in a country where ministers routinely wear wristwatches worth many times their annual salary, Mr Buhari is a sandal-wearing ascetic with a record of fighting corruption

It’s a relief not to have a vote in this election. What does one do? Mr Jonathan risks presiding over Nigeria’s bloody fragmentation. If Mr Buhari can save Nigeria, history might even be kind to him.

— Source: Economist.

Photo credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela / cc

About the author

Murray Burt

Murray Burt

Murray Burt has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, starting as a cadet reporter in New Zealand, and doing two stints with wire services on Fleet Street before settling in Canada in the newspaper business. He is a retired managing editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, and former city and national editor of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. He is a past-president of the CJA and has been a life member since 2003, participating in each of its conferences and CPU’s conferences since 1990. He is a director of the Advisory Council of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, based in New Delhi; president of Manitoba’s newly-reconstituted Royal Commonwealth Society; and has directorships in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and the Canadian Forces Liaison Council (western Canada).

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