The Irish Times view on Nigeria’s election: a lacklustre choice

Nigeria will end up with another uninspiring head of state at a moment when it badly needs courageous leadership and some fresh thinking

In all likelihood, then, Nigeria will end up with another uninspiring head of state at a moment when it badly needs energetic, courageous leadership and some fresh thinking. Photograph: Luis Tato/ AFP/Getty Images

In all likelihood, then, Nigeria will end up with another uninspiring head of state at a moment when it badly needs energetic, courageous leadership and some fresh thinking. Photograph: Luis Tato/ AFP/Getty Images

 

Nigeria’s 84 million voters face a lacklustre choice when they go to the polls to elect a president this weekend. The incumbent, 76-year-old former military strongman Muhammadu Buhari, came to power promising to do three things: revive the economy, improve security and crack down on corruption. Four years on, progress has been scant on each.

Buhari did mount an anti-corruption campaign, but critics claim it was used largely to crush his enemies, while Transparency International sees no signs graft is on the wane. On Buhari’s watch, unemployment has risen from 8 per cent to 23 per cent, and Nigerians have become poorer. Low oil prices were out of his control, but Buhari’s indecisive response – his nickname, earned during his first term, is Baba Go Slow – compounded the ensuing currency crisis. His record on security is no better. Buhari won election in 2015 pledging to end the war with the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram. Today, Boko Haram is gaining ground in the north.

Buhari’s strongest challenger is 72-year-old Atiku Abubakar, a tycoon and former vice-president whom the US refused for years to grant a visa because of corruption allegations against him (Abubakar denied the allegations). Apart from a Thatcherite agenda for sweeping privatisations, it’s not at all clear what he stands for.

In all likelihood, then, Nigeria will end up with another uninspiring head of state at a moment when it badly needs energetic, courageous leadership and some fresh thinking. But an even bigger concern is that the election could descend into violence. Democracy is barely consolidated in Africa’s most populous country, where military rule ended only in 1999. Buhari’s decision last week to suspend the chief justice augurs badly; the judge would have presided in any election dispute. Both sides complain of intimidation and vote-buying. A contested result followed by the type of unrest that killed 800 people in 2011 would threaten Nigeria’s young democracy and destabilise the region. No wonder many Nigerians will be more anxious than hopeful when they cast their votes.

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