Yesterday morning it became clear that the incumbent Nigerian president, this term’s APC (All Progressives Congress) candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, had won a second term in office. Since Buhari’s brief stint as military dictator after the coup of 1983, his commitment to democracy has been in question. Many of his 2015 campaign promises remain unfulfilled. Buhari’s main challenger, PDP (People’s Democratic Party) candidate, Atiku Abubakar, claims votes were rigged. Politics of apathy were reflected in voter turnout, which drifted to below 35 per cent. Young Nigerian people in particular feel disillusioned with politics: the two main parties (the APC and the PDP) have been behind every president since the end of military rule in 1999. For most, Nigeria’s story of independence has yet to be written.
Has Nigeria Lost its Naija?
Naija, ‘a word coined by the country’s youth as a way of distancing themselves from the old guard who blame them for Nigeria’s woes’ (Peter Okwoche, Nigerian media presenter), was a term used by the youth of the country throughout Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary celebrations in 2010 to encapsulate the rising of a new dawn for Nigeria.
Nigeria has a very large, very young population who are growing increasingly frustrated with politics. Voter turnout on 23 February was at a record low, just under 35 per cent, down from 44 per cent in 2015. The vibrant, Afrobeat-loving youth has been cast adrift, their vison of ‘Naija’ now a distant memory.
The election events, as they happened
11 February: The run-up to the elections characterised by violence: Reports of 140 campaign related killings reach international media headlines. Citizens criticise the current Nigerian government for not showing that they care about the violence. Grief for their lost loved ones connected those either too fearful or disinterested in politics to vote. Eleven were killed in an attack by Boko Haram militants south of Maiduguri and several INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) offices set alight; thousands of electronic smart readers and voter cards destroyed.
16 February: Voting delayed: A last minute announcement by the INEC on the day of voting, just hours before the voting was due to begin led the two main candidates, Buhari and Abubakar to condemn the move, accusing each other of trying to manipulate the vote. ‘Logistical reasons’ were cited for the postponement, which it turned out involved transportation of ballot papers and results sheets.
People had travelled hundreds and in some cases thousands of miles to the polls. The spotlight turned to the neutrality of key state institutions.
23 February: Voting began: Gunfire and explosions opened the voting. Hours-long delays at polling stations did not deter huge voter turnout in the capital city, Abuja, where some voters had arrived three hours before the polls opened. However, as proceedings continued, violence dictated voter behaviour: voters in Yobe missed polling to hide from militants whilst others were attacked with an axe and ballot boxes were smashed at a polling station in Lagos. Votes cast in different areas of the country differed largely.
24 February: Twitter tells all: Abubakar and Buhari shared very different messages on Twitter as delayed polls stayed open for the last few votes to trickle in, signifying a close call. Abubakar encouraged people to ‘go out and cast your vote too if you have not done so yet’. Buhari, on the other hand, shared how proud he was of Nigeria’s agricultural achievements after spending the morning on his farm in Daura.
27 February: Economic hub of Nigeria determines the outcome: As the results trickled in, winning Lagos became key. The most densely populated city in Africa, economic hub of Nigeria, home to both millionaires and millions of Nigeria’s poor, has been a focus of Buhari’s campaigning energies this election campaign. Buhari was declared president for the second time.
Overcoming his past: 20 months as a military ruler
“As a military Head of State, young and rather ruthless, I did things in a certain way. Now, as a democratically elected President, I have to do things differently. A lot of what I’m doing now is based on the lessons I have learned from previous experiences.” – @MBuhari (Twitter), 14 February.
Perhaps Buhari’s secret to success this election was acknowledging his past, using Twitter to overcome his ruthless reputation. However, now that the result is clear, Buhari has election promises on which to deliver.
Buhari’s 2019 campaign promises:
- Various sectors including energy, agriculture, the technology and creative industries and vendors will contribute to job creation
- Improvements to infrastructure involve completing ongoing projects such as the Second Niger Bridge, road improvements and a railway line. Broadband coverage and renewable energy adoption is also promised to be expanded
- Business and entrepreneurship development
- Enhanced health and education services: 10,000 schools per year will be remodelled and equipped
- Political inclusion: the president promised 35 per cent of his appointments will go to females
Buhari has his hands full. 51 per cent of the electorate is under the age of 35, and at present are seemingly more engaged with one of the country’s greatest exports, Afrobeats, than his politics. Female candidate Oby Ezekwesili (who withdrew her candidacy shortly before the election) tried to appeal to young people, showcasing the 20 year cycles she believes Nigeria passes through, from 1959 independence, to 2019, which, she purported, ‘will end the reign of a decadent political class’. However, interviews held with young people in Nigeria during this election identified common themes for concern, such as violence and corruption. The youth believe in democracy but are not convinced that Nigeria is a democratic nation.
By 2047, according to UN projections, Nigeria will have overtaken the US to become the world’s third-largest nation with 387 million people. This so-called ‘superpower with no power’ needs to take action to deliver solutions on the economic and security challenges Nigeria faces. An ambitious industrial strategy will need to reduce the country’s dependency on oil and other minerals. The youth are those who want to join a knowledge-based, high-tech economy. Buhari’s ability to deliver on his promises will be key if Nigeria is to attract, grow and retain talent. An effort to tackle corruption so that their talent is recognised and rewarded is likely to remain in the hands of Nigeria’s youth. Realising ‘Naija’ will take more than 84 million registered voters; 91 political parties; over 70 candidates on ballot papers and 119,173 polling stations. As Buhari begins his second term, we watch to see whether Nigeria’s youth can rewrite the story of Nigeria’s independence.