Over the past week, the Nigerian military has rescued over 700 captives in its advances against Boko Haram. Although there are many captives yet to be rescued, many hope that the recent efforts are indicators of future victories. As Nigeria and the world celebrate this victory, it is also imperative to honor the bravery and resilience of the captives rescued, and those who continue to fight for their freedom.
On May 29, 2015, president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari will be taking power as Nigeria’s president. His election was a historical moment for Nigerian democracy, and a monumental indicator for Nigeria’s future. To get a better idea of the implications of this election, and what Nigeria’s future may hold, we interviewed Chime Asonye, a recent graduate of Northwestern University School of Law, and a leader within the Nigerian diaspora. He gave valuable insight into the implications of Buhari’s election for Nigeria’s future diplomacy, economy, and security.
In your opinion, what are some common misconceptions people have about Nigeria?
When people think about Nigeria, they don’t think about the fact that it is the largest economy in Africa. They don’t understand that it is a MINT economy. Also, people do not think about the amazing youth population in terms of demographics that is within the country. There is an amazing mix of opportunities in the country that people should explore. With that said, there are also huge issues with how federal structure works, and issues with people being in poverty. In countries where there was the most democratic resistance, there was the economic power to do so. It is not a question of people not wanting to change, but rather having to survive. And a lot of people are just surviving. The people who need to get involved can help the entire population grow. When people have a certain baseline of security, they will be able to revolt. Nigeria revolted at the ballot box and will continue to do so. Nigeria was thought to be on the brink of annihilation. Nigeria proved to the whole world that we understand the promise of democracy, and we are willing to do what it takes to hold politicians, accountable, and we did that. Nigeria is not the stereotype, and you should not just think about bombings, Boko Haram, and killings. It is a nation of promise, new democracy. Nigeria is continuing on path of excellence and just demonstrated that to the world.
What is most important to understand about the past election, and Nigeria’s future?
This election marked a number of firsts. Nigeria has never had ruling party lose since Nigeria’s return to democracy. Furthermore, a sitting President had never been voted out of power through the ballot box. We’ve never had a sitting President concede defeat. There are a number of historic firsts that are the subtexts for the election. The major implication is that now there is an opposition party that is going to have the helm of government. Because of the way of democracy and federal system, a lot of power is centralized. Nigeria is going to have an opposition party control the majority of power.This trend has also been noted in several other countries on the continent. For example, 2012 in Senegal, the president was looking at taking 3rd term, people took to the streets and defeated him in the poll. In Burkina Faso the leader also tried to amend constitution to extend his rule, and citizens took to the streets. Nigeria is extending the legacy of rulers not being able to extend their power, and citizens coming out and voting for change. From now to 2017 there will be elections in several countries, which will continue the Africa rising story. The culture of true democracy is grabbing hold and beginning to spread.
What does Buhari’s election mean for Nigeria’s young adults and at-risk groups?
In 2011, a lot of people considered that election the election of the youth. A lot of young people got involved in the electoral cycle after the instability in the country. Young people became interested in what was going on and got involved in the elections. People got involved by monitoring and protecting votes, because 2003 & 2007 were historically poor elections. Building on that progress, young people were more proactive about current election. Now that we’ve monitored this, we need to start holding people accountable, getting invested in the electoral cycle. A lot of young people were involved in the campaign, and moderated debates during the campaign. During the election, the opposition raised several core issues, including corruption, and the economy. In regard to Nigeria’s young population, the issue of the economy is huge because of unemployment rates. Buhari’s claims about potential progress in economy pulled young people’s votes in his favor. Additionally, his promise of security: bring back our girls – pulled young people in. Getting young people feeling safer in their country, and promising access to basic things such as social services was important as we think about what we want in our country.
How confident are you in Buhari’s ability to address Boko Haram?
During Obama’s election in 2008, he ran on platform of change. In Nigeria’s recent election, the opposition’s slogan of change was significant. The slogan was so embedded in minds of populus, that as the current President’s first lady was talking, she said “anyone who is voting for change, you should stone them.” Subsequently, the ICC began investigating this and other hate statements. In some sense, not everyone who was voting because they liked the opposition, but they were voting against the president’s administration. People began exercising their civil right to address what was going on. A sovereign nation had territory size of Belgium taken over by group. Suicide bombings were increasing, and suicide bombings involving young people, and girls were on the uprise. When the opposition said change, that was what many were thinking about. Additionally, many people decried was corruption in the military sector. Buhari talked about adequately supplying military to carry out their duties. Being a former officer, he knew how to operate security apparatus. Many believed that his past military experience would be valuable in advancing country forward, and combating Boko Haram.
What are the implications of this election for public diplomacy in Nigeria?
In terms of bordering countries, Chad & Niger have gotten most involved in the fight against Boko Haram. Chadian president was vocal about how Nigerian forces were not doing that much to fight. He called out the government publicly for lack of involvement in addressing Boko Haram. A dysfunctional military, corruption-led security lapses, and lack of collaboration with neighbors resulted in mistrust of the Nigerian military. Consequently, many did not trust the Nigerian government to allocate military funds appropriately. For example, during the bring Bring Back our Girls movement, the US was doing sweeps of where girls were suspected to be, but could not tell Nigerian security personnel because of lack the of trust. In an effort to improve diplomatic relations with other countries, and to address issues within Nigeria, Buhari has proposed the following:
- Nigerian soldiers should handle Nigerian problems, and fewer foreign mercenaries should be in Nigeria. For example, during postponement of election, regional security forces made advances on Boko Haram. Nigerian forces were partially involved, but not to the extent that they should have been. The African Union wants to send multinational force to region to combat Boko Haram. However, Buhari is not in support of the use of multinational forces because he would want to train Nigerian military and combat Boko Haram with the nation’s own troops. Regional forces (from bordering nations) would want that too. Although Chad has re-occupied towns in Borno State, they want to be able to leave conflict areas and have those towns held by Nigerian troops.
- To rid security forces of corruption, and improve relationships with western world. In doing so, his hope is that western allies would be more willing to work with Nigerian government.
How do you think Buhari will fare against the oil pirates in Nigeria?
A lot of the groundwork has been done before the election. A lot of piracy in the Niger Delta happened with an organization called MEND. Right after the election, MEND released a statement congratulating Buhari on electoral victory. One of the main leaders of MEND is leading peace efforts in the Niger Delta. There is piracy and there has been piracy, but the election has positive implications. Main Niger Delta leaders are working to promote peace. All stakeholders realize that this is important and people don’t want to go back to a life of piracy. Because Buhari has the motif of being anti-corruption leader, all levels of corruption are likely to decrease. Niger Delta militants have been supporting president-elect, and the accepted amnesty they were given. The President elect’s anti-corruption promise is going to work to check abuses in the oil sector.