By Aditya Ramachandran II Staff Writer
In the last five years, the insurgency led by the terrorist Islamist front Boko Haram has caused over a million Nigerians to be displaced from their homes. Consequently, it brings great surprise and even relief that the rule of Nigeria’s incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, known in the international community for his cavalier attitude towards the myriad of problems facing his home country, is being challenged from former General Muhammadu Buhari, a pro business military strongman known for crushing similar insurgencies in Nigeria in his political past.
As head of the military government between 1983 and 1985 , Buhari was seen by supporters as tough on corruption and in his dealings with rebellions.
For the invested public and geopolitical observers, the fate of Africa’s largest economy is of enormous importance considering the consequences of its future success or failure.
Jonathan’s PDP Party has governed Nigeria for the last 15 years, and has little to show for it. Under Jonathan, Nigeria has made little progress in tackling its endemic corruption: visible to visitors to the country as an immutable factor of daily life. Furthermore, in recent years nearly 18,000 Nigerians have died as a consequence of turbulent political violence, perpetrated by several factions of which Boko Haram is but one, albeit a very significant one.
All of that being said, under Goodluck Jonathan’s governance (or rather misgovernance), the Nigerian economy has remained one of the world’s fastest growing economies, although it can be said that this is due to extraneous factors such as the drop in global oil prices and lack of government intervention similar to the Indian model of economic growth. Nigerian infrastructure remains woefully inadequate and its teeming cities can be held as symbols of inequity; where pockets of wealth exist surrounded by some of the most squalid slums in the world.
Arguably the most visible, Makoko in the city of Lagos, was described by the top geopolitical commentator Parag Khanna as making “Dharavi (in Mumbai) look like Paris.”It can be said that there is more than enough reason for Goodluck Jonathan to be ousted by the ballot box.
Buhari is a strongman, in an era where the authoritarian political structure is being touted as more effective at delivering basic results than the messier democratic alternative. Recently, India, a country similar to Nigeria not only in terms of development but in terms of nominal economic size and regional importance democratically, elected an authoritarian figure, Narendra Modi, to office on the back of his promise to tackle corruption and foster growth through neoliberal principles. The similarities between the two are astounding, and indeed Modi was elected with an enormous mandate making him the most powerful Indian leader in 30 years.
It is not inconceivable that such a figure could come to power in Nigeria, with a similar mandate for change. Yet just as is the case with Modi, seen as a religious chauvinist by many in India, Mr Buhari too has his skeletons in the closet. An ex-general, he came to power in a coup and is accused of not only numerous human rights violations including ordering his citizens to be flogged as a form of discipline but also for his economic policies which caused the Nigerian currency to depreciate in the face of a trade deficit. Buhari banned political meetings, free speech, and executed people for crimes that were not capital offenses.
Yet, many in Nigeria believe he deserves a change in office. In a country where many in power display their status over the common man brazenly by wearing wristwatches “worth many times their annual salary” Buhari has a history of forcefully exposing the illicit dealings of the elite. Regardless of his character, Nigeria has strong enough institutions that it seems unlikely that it will turn into some kind of autocracy despite the personal leanings of Mr. Buhari if he is elected. Infrastructure and security, undoubtedly the most ardent needs of the nation are areas where Buhari is the man for the job. If Mr. Buhari can provide the strong leadership and national vision that Nigeria needs, it is certainly possible that Africa could be the home of a new global economic power.