Much like the story of Abraham Lincoln, but unlike the former American President and one of the greatest men that ever lived, who lost the US Presidential election nine times, Nigeria's President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari was about five shots short. Nonetheless, his name and chronicle will forever be a fundamental part of our history books.
After three consecutive defeats, the retired General (who now prefers to be called a refined Democrat) picked himself up, restrategized, seized the moment and once more pitched his popularity in a contest that has been adjudged the closest since the dawn of Nigeria's democracy.
On April 1, 2015, Nigerians became part of a groundbreaking history when General Muhammadu Buhari was announced winner of the March 28 presidential election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, having defeated the incumbent President and flag-bearer of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in a historic twist of events.
Over a month later, a substantial majority of Nigerians are still struggling to grasp the full meaning of General Muhammadu Buhari's election to the presidency. The overall mood is awash with pride but shaded with apprehension, anxiety, and angst, and wrapped up by a larger question: The future?
On that day, pro-democracy campaigner turned APC strategist, Mr. Biodun Showunmi, spoke with the Media during the post-election coverage. "After hearing the news," Showunmi said, "we were exhilarated, we hooped and hollered and did all sort of jubilation." It is hard to overemphasize the historical significance of the first opposition party presidential election victory in Nigerian history.
For many in the opposition, and certainly most within the shores of Nigeria, Buhari's victory is an extraordinary step towards the redemption of a deplorable sit-tight syndrome emblematic of African leaders. It has always been an almost impossible task to defeat a sitting President in an election in many nations of Africa where Democracy is still in its infant stage.
It is astonishing, although not for its quickness, coming after almost 55 years after the nation's independence from Britain. Nigerians are also happy because the palpable fear that gripped the nation was abated immediately after the polls results were announced, a tranquility largely credited to the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan's unprecedented magnanimity.
Let us be quick to add that President Jonathan's show of statesmanship was a major reason Nigerians could heave a sigh of relief after the election. "Just a little less than 2 years ago," Cambridge University Professor Anthony Kila was quoted as saying "it was inconceivable to any of us that we would see an opposition party candidate become president this soon."
The President proved to Nigerians beyond reasonable doubt that he meant his words, " no political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian, and expressed such in his actions. This showed great hope for the nation's democracy, and won the hearts and admiration of many who had thought it would be nearly impossible for a sitting Nigerian President to lose an election, let alone concede defeat.
What is perhaps the most surprising about many Nigerians' support for the president-elect is that it was not immediate or easy. Many southerners were initially skeptical about Buhari's candidacy, partly because they regarded him as a religious fanatic due to his effusive championing of the Sharia law in the north, as well as his antecedents as the head of a brutal military junta, which he apparently successfully disabused Nigerians of by campaigning as a "converted democrat."
The support for General Buhari soared after he won his party's presidential ticket at their convention in Lagos last December. But there were moments in his campaign when Buhari was forced to manage the issue of religion deftly and explain the unexplainable to a largely educated southern electorate.
Consider the case of his academic certificate, which caused a lot of uproar throughout the month of January. Buhari's campaign was put on the aggressive defensive after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the nation's electoral body, published the submitted credentials of all the candidates standing in this year's presidential elections.
The published document revealed that General Buhari sworn an affidavit to meet the requisites for successful candidacy. The ruling party demanded that Buhari cannot rule the country because he joined the army without required academic qualifications. A legal action was taken on the matter at the courts where it languishes past the date set for the elections.
As the political turbulence continued to muster momentum, Mr. Buhari remained resolute to keep his campaign in focus, suggesting that the scrutiny he faced over his academic background and religion was because of many PDP-orchestrated conspiracy theories that will linger no matter what he does.
Although he received the largest bulk of his votes from his fellow northerners, Buhari's 2015 candidacy also received more support especially from the South-West this time around, clinching states like Oyo, Lagos, Osun, Ogun, and so on. It goes to show that even the Southerners needed a change, and ensured they got it by voting Buhari.
The major issue now in public discourse is perhaps what Nigerians should expect after May 29. There is already mass panic, especially among the corrupt each over the possibility of a clamp down by the President-elect who has continually assured that he will carry out a campaign against corruption and prosecute corrupt individuals.
Many even indicate that there is a massive exodus among this class, with many of them dragging their loot along. This is now largely termed "the fear of Buhari." Even the first lady allegedly used this claim as a campaign strategy against Buhari during the period leasing to the elections.
It is now unclear what the future holds for the people of Nigeria. Only time will tell if the retired General is truly a refined democrat as he claims, or if indeed he still has those autocratic tendencies that people feared about his government.
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