Despite the landslide victory of Mr.MohammaduBuhari at the recent presidential polls, that he could bring the change the country desires still leaves Nigerians divided few weeks to his inauguration, EMEKA EJERE, writes

With a mandate from Africa’s biggest democracy gathering steam behind him, it is expected that Gen MuhammaduBuhari (rtd) will have a legitimacy that he never enjoyed during his time in the 1980s as a military ruler. What remains a subject of debate ahead of May 29 handover date, however,  is whether the retired General has what it takes to bring about the much desired change.

Amazingly, findings have shown that for many of the Nigerians who voted for him, it is precisely the tough, ruthless qualities that he showed as a dictator that may satisfy their desire for change. This perhaps explains why the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) could win the heart of only a few Nigerians with a campaign against his history of dictatorship.

The PDP was also very eloquent in preaching that a man surrounded by people of questionable characters as either supporters or sponsors can hardly be the messiah. But those who claimed to know the General well are optimistic that the vigour with which he would pursue his far-reaching policies would eventually separate the wheat from the chaff.

Today Nigeria is suffering not just from the problems of corruption and poverty that have dogged it for decades, but also an unprecedented (though obviously reducing) terrorist threat in the face of Boko Haram.

As well as its infamous kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno State last year, the Islamist movement has slaughtered up to 10,000 people in the last five years, taking control of towns, local governments and bringing the horror of international jihadism to a country that already has more than its fair share of problems.

However, for a section of the society, that Mr. Jonathan failed to get to grips with the threat properly was  not purely his fault. This, for them, is because the Nigerian army he inherited is a dysfunctional one not best suited to fighting insurgencies. But as the de facto commander-in-chief, many Nigerians took the view that the buck stopped with him. Mr Buhari, they hope, will stand a rather better chance against the militants.

Not only is he a former military man himself, he is also a Muslim from the North where Boko Haram is strong. The thinking goes that he therefore has a better chance of getting the cooperation of the region’s many power brokers when he seeks to impose his will.

The other big hope is that Mr Buhari can fight the country’s endemic problems of corruption in public office, which continue to be one of the main reasons why a country blessed with one of Africa’s greatest reserves of oil wealth continues to be one of its poorest.

Again, Mr Buhari has something of a track record. His war against indiscipline during his time as a military ruler between 1983 and 1985, he waged a “war on indiscipline” saw hundreds of functionaries put in jail and civil servants forced to humiliating “frog jump” exercises if they were caught turning up late for work.

“Buhari got a reputation for being tough on corruption when he was a military dictator, and people think he will do so again now,” Tahir Sherriff, a Nigerian journalist, said.  “Even some people who were jailed by him are coming to support him.”

However, being tough on corruption also means being tough on the causes of corruption, and that is less easy. As with other developing nations, corruption in Nigeria is partly a function of poverty, and as long as a job in the public sector remains one of the few decent ways to earn a living, the temptation for graft will remain.

“Tough sentences will help stop that, but the long term solution is to improve and diversify the economy beyond its dependence on oil. While Mr Buhari has a programme that talks all the right talk on that subject, there is no particular reason for thinking that he will be any better than Mr. Jonathan in that regard,” a source who pleaded anonymity noted.

“Whether Buhari can actually do a better job is a very good question,” said Elizabeth Donnelly, assistant head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, the London-based international thinktank. “He certainly understands the military more, and may also have more decisive leadership, but he is not a silver bullet, and there is no great evidence that his coalition has put a great deal of thought into questions of economic management.”

Much will depend, she said, on the people around Mr Buhari in his All Progressives Congress party, an opposition coalition. Its various different factions have shown unexpected unity in challenging and beating Mr. Jonathan, but that may crumble into feuding once the fruits of power loom near.

In a country full of state governors who are substantial powerbrokers in their own right, the quality of that inner circle will determine whether his vision is delivered effectively, quietly ignored, or actively frustrated. And while most diplomats consider Mr Buhari himself to be a man of personal probity, they say many of those around him may well be of the “indisciplined” sort themselves.

AlhajiShettimaYerima, leader of Northern Youth Consultave Forum, in an interview with Hallmark had this to say:

“To me I’ve not seen change yet. I’ve only seen people advocating for change, but I’ve not seen the characters that are change. I ‘ve not seen any change in these characters. Both from the opposition party and even those in power, I’ve not seen any change.

“Those are the same men of yesteryears. One way or the other they’ve had the opportunity to have done well. I ask you some of them are governors, what have they been able to do in the 8 years that they’ve been in the seat of power as governors within their various states, rather than acquiring so much wealth, exploiting people, taxing people at the expense of the common man?

“Then the same people again have suddenly, and because you’re in PDP and maybe you didn’t get what you wanted, and you’re now in APC or any other political party, you’ve automatically become a new born-again. How can that be?”

He however does not doubt the integrity of Gen Buhari:

“I am saying in a normal society, not because I’m doubting his integrity. I’m only worried that somebody like him who’s very clean will end up being messed up by those cronies around him, those cronies, those ex governors and the present governors. Do they deserve anything from Nigeria than to go to prison? All of them, not one of them should escape it. If Buhari is clean then what happens to others? Will Buhari alone rule this country?”

RasheedOlokode, a public affairs analyst is not convinced that Mr.Buhari has the competence to achieve much as most of his (Buhari’s) admirers are not looking at the main issue.

“Simplicity of lifestyle, rather than proven competence in governance, I suspect, is what has endeared multitudes whose swansong of the day is SaiBuhari to the veteran presidential candidate. I also suspect that the unceasing outpouring of emotion from such admirers of the simplicity of a supposedly big man, in the Nigerian parlance, is responsible for the Daura-born reversal of his 2011 pledge not to contest again.

“But, each time I ponder over the prospects of Buhari’s 2015 ambition, I perceive a wide gap begging to be filled in the theory that situates the solutions to the myriads of the complicated socio-economic and political plagues responsible for the dwarfing of a giant in a single-point strength.

“The unanswered question of all seasons – the question of innovative governance as an antidote of cluelessness – still begs the recurrent candidacy of Buhari for an answer.”

While congratulating the president-elect, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Rivers State, expressed the belief that the emergence of Buhari is a clear indication that democracy is growing in Nigeria and the days of impunity numbered.

“Leadership is about the people who are the real owners of government”, the TUC noted. “We appeal to the President-elect to unite Nigeria, tackle corruption and insecurity, and address the economy with a view to addressing the twin evil of poverty and unemployment.”

General Buhari cannot be told more; this is the simple request Nigerians are putting before him as he waits to assume the mantle of leadership of Africa’s most populous nation on May 29, 2015. It is definitely not too much to ask and not too difficult to grant if the administration is set to be people-oriented, all-inclusive and the change Nigerians desire.