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Vol 56 No 7

Published 3rd April 2015


A moment of truth for the General

Returning to power after 30 years, Muhammadu Buhari has been elected President heading a coalition bent on reform

One of the first acts of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari's new government will be to establish a clear regime of accountability and transparency in managing the country's oil and gas revenue, a senior member of the transition team told Africa Confidential. The team thinks it critical to establish the new government's credibility and rebuff overtures from local and foreign vested interests which want to blunt and obstruct its anti-corruption drive.

It has been the popular belief that Buhari has the political will to tackle the rampant theft of state resources that propelled him and the All Progressives Congress to victory in the 28 March presidential election. The APC won 15.4 million votes (55%) to the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan's 12.8 mn. (45%). Drawn mainly but not exclusively from the APC, the transition team faces crowds of political and business defectors trying to ingratiate themselves with the new government, added the APC chieftain as his colleagues put the final touches to Gen. Buhari's victory speech.

Six hours earlier, the then President Jonathan had conceded defeat and congratulated Buhari in a bid to cool political tensions after the defeat of the governing People's Democratic Party (PDP). For most of the day, Jonathan had sat in the presidential lodge at Aso Rock watching the tide of increasingly unfavourable election results being announced. Sitting alongside him, like grieving relatives, were a former military leader and Chairman of the Electoral Peace Accord, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, businessman Aliko Dangote, Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan and the Anglican Primate, Archbishop Nicholas Dikeriehi Orogodo Okoh.

As the first results came through on the previous evening, a trio of former presidents – Ghana's John Kufuor (who headed the election mission of the Economic Community of West African States), Malawi's Bakili Muluzi (heading the Commonwealth Observer Mission) and Liberia's Amos Sawyer – visited Jonathan to encourage him accept the results and slap down any attempt by his more rampant followers to derail the electoral process.

For the last three months, the country had been buzzing with speculation about how Jonathan's team was going to push back the growing support for Buhari and the APC. Mooted plans involved forcing the resignation of Attahiru Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who was seen to be taking the 'independent' part of his mandate too seriously, along with paying billions of naira to influential local leaders and using security forces to rig the vote, as was done in the Ekiti State gubernatorial election last year (AC Vol 56 No 4, Policing the vote). 

Jega, the quiet academic and activist who showed impressive forbearance as he faced open abuse from across the political spectrum, is widely seen as the man of the match. It was his insistence on biometric elector registration and the compulsory use of biometric cards to accredit voters that sharply cut the old bloated electoral roll. It stopped many double registrations and under-age voters. It was a combination of his determined stance, the efforts of non-

governmental organisations such as the Transition Monitoring Group and ex-journalist Tunji Lardner's West African NGO Network (Wangonet), that kept a close eye on both politicians' conduct in the campaign and the credibility of the results and voter turnout figures.

Better and faster information technology and a network of reporters and monitors armed with mobile telephone cameras operated at most of the 120,000 polling stations. Short of the political thuggery seen in places such as Rivers State (see Box, The rigging in Rivers), it was far harder to steal this year's election.

One of Jonathan's campaign advisors, Michael Moszynski, lamented that he had got little kudos for his earlier democratic reforms: 'Jonathan appointed Jega, knowing he had a record of political independence and was a strong supporter.' Such was the climate of partisanship, that every decision taken by the government was seen as blow against the opposition, he added.

In fact, the security service advice to Jega to postpone the elections by six weeks ultimately benefited the opposition far more than the PDP. Another 15 million registered electors picked up their biometric cards, often in areas that strongly supported the opposition.

Even the armed forces' military campaign against the Boko Haram Islamists in the north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe seemed to help the opposition. Although the campaign was successful, regaining all but one of the local government areas seized by the jihadists, many asked why it had taken the government five years to tackle the insurgency seriously. Opposition jibes that the successes were due mainly to help from the armies of Nigeria's much smaller neighbours – Chad, Cameroon and Niger – and a motley crew of ageing South African mercenaries rang true to many voters, it seems.

For a presidential election campaign that is said to have cost the PDP more than $300 mn., the result shows that dollars don't always buy votes – even in a country lambasted for its money politics. Moszynski blames that on the cacaphony of messages coming from the Jonathan camp: 'There were about twelve different campaigns being run simultaneously, some of them openly contradicting or undermining each other.'

In contrast, Kayode Fayemi, former Governor of Ekiti and one of Buhari's campaign directors, said his party was running far more of a grassroots campaign on far less money. 'We tried to build a movement for change as much as run an election campaign.' Most of the party workers running campaigns on social media, radio and television, and in the press were volunteers.

Also critical to the party's success were its 'situation rooms' in each state: run by groups of psephologists, computer scientists and journalists, they created and compared statistical models of voting intention and performance and analysed all the data that their opinion polling outfits were bringing in from the field. Although most of the public opinion polls were widely excoriated, both parties claim their private polling operations proved remarkably accurate, state by state, across the country. It seems both sides used the public polls as a key weapon to shape opinion. Over the past three months, the APC had managed to build up Buhari from a staunch anti-corruption campaigner with the respect of the military to a national figure that could stop the country's drift.

That part of the campaign reached its finale on the evening of 31 March, when a small team including Fayemi, Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi and a gubernatorial candidate in Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, sat down to write Buhari's victory speech. 'The general went through it line by line, questioning the ideas as he went,' we were told. It was a far cry from Buhari's military days.

From his last stint in power three decades ago, Buhari will remember how quickly the chants of 'Happy New Year! Happy New Government!' that greeted his military putsch on 31 December 1983 turned to protest and frustration with the new regime's failure to stem the country's social and economic ills. This time, Buhari leads a far more talented and pragmatic team but its political tasks have got no easier.

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