Why a Buhari victory could ultimately strengthen Nigerian democracy

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I write for The National Interest tomorrow that former Nigerian head of state Muhammadu Buhari (pictured above) could strengthen Nigeria’s fledgling and imperfect democracy more than even the reelection of its current president (and US ally) Goodluck Jonathan.nigeria_flag_icon

It’s not exactly intuitive that a former military dictator, in essence, could wind up bolstering the rule of law. But if he wins, and his victory goes smoothly, it would establish a precedent for Nigeria — Jonathan’s admission of defeat and the peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government (in this case, the People’s Democratic Party) to the opposition (the All Progressives’ Congress).

Buhari, as a Muslim from Nigeria’s north, could easily succeed where Jonathan has failed in retarding the growth of the jihadist Boko Haram group. He could hardly do worse.

Perhaps more importantly, Buhari has a reputation for being genuinely averse to corruption, which dates back to his days leading Nigeria in the mid-1980s. Despite curtailing press freedom, Buhari is perhaps most well-known for his (failed) attempt to reduce graft in a country where oil wealth and a strong federal government has made corruption an endemic problem:

Nevertheless, Buhari led the most committed campaign in Nigerian history to eliminate graft and corruption, and his ambitious “war against indiscipline” sought to instill a sense of professionalism within the civil service and civic pride among the Nigerian population. It was Buhari’s intolerance for corruption that probably brought his government to an overhasty conclusion. Terrified elites, in both Nigeria’s north and south, breathed a sigh of relief when another military leader, Ibrahim Babangida, came to power in yet another coup. Babangida, who remained a powerful Nigerian political boss in the north after his own fall from power, has even endorsed Buhari in 2015, thirty years after deposing him…

Although the election appears, at first glance, like a Hobson’s choice between corrupt incompetence and pious dictatorship, there are reasons to believe that there’s a path for Nigeria to survive its 2015 election—and to emerge with its democracy not only intact, but strengthened.

 

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