Buhari’s return: on Nigeria elections

In handing President Muhammadu Buhari a huge overall margin in the polls, Nigeria has plumped for political continuity. In an election that had been postponed by a week, the anti-corruption crusader romped home with enough votes to avoid a run-off. In what had been set up as a close contest, Mr. Buhari, who heads the ruling All Progressives Congress, beat former vice-president Atiku Abubakar by about four million votes. The rumblings in the Opposition about vote-rigging by the ruling party may continue to be heard for a while, given the widespread delays and irregularities at polling booths, apart from incidents of violence and several fatalities. But some poll observers believe that the Opposition’s claims are not backed by sufficient proof to make them legally sustainable. The question now is whether Mr. Buhari can convert his convincing mandate for a second term into policies that can boost investment and growth, generate jobs and narrow inequalities. The challenge of unemployment, at over 20% according to official figures, is made more formidable by the rapid increase in the working-age population. The prospects for change hinge on whether Mr. Buhari can live down his reputation as an old-fashioned interventionist leader and open the economy to competition. A test case of that makeover would be the passage of oil sector reform legislation aimed at the privatisation of the state-owned petroleum firm. Mr. Buhari’s record in countering the Islamist Boko Haram in the north of the country and the conflict between herdsmen and farmers in the central region remain unfinished business. On the external front, of particular interest to investors would be the new Nigerian government’s stance on joining the African free-trade agreement. Equally crucial would be Abuja’s backing for Morocco’s membership of the Economic Community of West African States, the 15-nation trading bloc.

Exactly 20 years since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999, Nigerians have decisively left behind the uncertainties of repeated military coups that marred their immediate post-colonial history. Equally significant, recent elections suggest limited progress in the conduct of transparent elections compared to the previous decade. But the postponement of the poll by a week, just hours before voters were to cast their ballot, did not inspire confidence. In 2015, the delay was as much as six weeks. Moreover, the large number of poll-related deaths in the last few days points to a disturbing absence of official accountability. A peaceful election is one of the crucial indicators of a credible transfer of power through the ballot. Calm must return in Abuja and the ruling party and the Opposition have a duty to respect the rule of law. Among sub-Saharan Africa’s largest countries, Nigeria should strive to clean up its act.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 8:42:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/buharis-return/article26391144.ece

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