At face, electing a military dictator may not fit the western conception of political progress. In Nigeria, however, the successful presidential election of Muhammadu Buhari serves as an encouraging sign of political progress. Despite his former role as Nigeria’s military dictator, Buhari’s election goes against the current state of affairs for the continent of Africa. The advancement of stable political change in Africa’s largest country and democracy deserves enormous attention.
Historically speaking, inclusive political institutions have difficulty taking root because of the resistance provided by established political and economic elites. More often than not, the two categories contain the same people. For New Institutional economists, this phenomenon of ‘institutional resistance’ explains why many nations remain (or revert back) in a cycle of poverty and oppression. Political ‘change’ poses no challenge, but long-term political and economic change does.
Given the difficulty of institutional change, Nigeria’s successful democratic election offers hope of established inclusive political change. The fact that Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s incumbent president, recognized the victory of the All Progress Congress and congratulated Buhari over phone indicates the current political regime recognizes the ‘rules’ of Nigeria’s democracy. In other African states, the problem of incumbents deciding they are not ready to leave office occurs more often than not. Goodluck and Buhari’s cooperation on political transition diverges from the norm in Africa, and Nigerians are properly celebrating.
Nigeria still has much progress to make in its journey as a young democracy, and I have difficulty believing Buhari will fulfill all of his promises. However, the success of peaceful political transition in a continent rife with the opposite gives more than enough cause for celebration.
Good luck, Nigeria.