London, March 31, 2015–It looks like Muhammadu Buhari, the opposition leader, will edge out the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria’s presidential election. That’s probably a good thing.

Challenger Muhammedu Buhari (l) exchanges smiles with incumbent President Goodluck Johnson two days before election.

Jonathan has overseen massive corruption, incompetence and failure to deal forthrightly with the vicious terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram. I was in Nigeria three years ago with Human Rights Watch to research the Boko Haram insurgency. HRW concluded the Islamist killers, who have also assaulted civilians outside its stronghold in the far northeast, were probably guilty of war crimes. Since the report, Boko Haram has specialized in kidnapping children, including scores of girls.

But  HRW also determined that the Nigerian army engaged in brutal tactics that included disappearances, and arbitrary killings and also found time to abuse and shake down  workaday Nigerians for money at roadblocks.  All this played into Boko Haram’s contention that the Nigerian government was incorrigibly brutal. The population of northern Nigeria felt it had nowhere to turn when threatened by Boko Haram.

Buhari, a former military commander, might be able to put the military (and the police force) in shape. As a Muslim, he might be able to draw off support from Boko Haram. He will have to be careful not to offend Nigerians in the country’s largely Christian south and bring together the country’s myriad of tribal loyalties behind a common cause.

   In short, his real task is to try to forge Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, into a cohesive nation. Cracking down on corruption would be a good first step.

Brookings Institute publishes a thorough Nigerian perspective on what’s at stake.

Carnegie Endowment links corruption with the rise of Boko Haram.

The 2012 HRW report.

A brief profile of Buhari.

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