When King George III of England was told that George Washington was resigning from his office, the King responded: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” Much of the success of the American democracy is derived from the values of our first president—the first man in modern history to voluntarily surrender his executive power.
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan will have to do just that. In order to ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s largest democracy, he must cede power to his challenger: General Muhammadu Buhari.
Nigeria’s Presidential election was conducted this past Saturday (March 28th) after being postponed due to the Boko Haram insurgency that still plagues the north of the country. Even with the six-week delay, Boko Haram attacks killed more than 50 people at the polls.
While there are several charges of voter tampering being thrown at the Jonathan administration (which has a long history of corruption allegations), it appears that these tactics have ultimately failed. Jonathan has lost in many key competitive states, and is seeing little to no support from the north of the country. As of publication, Buhari has a 3.3 million vote lead with only two states left unreported.
President Jonathan has been criticized for allowing the rise of the Boko Haram militant group in northern Nigeria, as well as for corruption scandals over his handling of Africa’s largest economy. Buhari ran on a platform of anti-corruption and military experience.
Many point to Buhari’s victory as a sign that Nigerians want a strong military mind to eliminate the Boko Haram issue. General Buhari has experience as the leader of Nigeria’s former military government that dissolved in 1999. Many Nigerians have made it clear that, while they wanted a change, the nation is still wary of Buhari’s violent military past.
While it is too early to say what changes we will see in a Buhari government (or even if Jonathan will allow that to happen in the first place), we can be certain that the next period in Nigeria will be a tedious one.
If Jonathan refuses to surrender his power, Nigeria may experience a very violent period of transition. If he acknowledges Buhari’s victory, on the other hand, Jonathan will be one to usher in a new age in Nigerian and African politics.
UPDATE (3/31/15, 1:31 ET): President Goodluck Jonathan has conceded defeat to his challenger Muhammadu Buhari. This marks the first change in power in Nigeria since 1999 and the first ever free democratic change in power in the nation’s history.