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Power Transfer Tests Nigeria's Democracy

3 MINS READMay 29, 2015 | 09:00 GMT
Power Transfer Tests Nigeria's Democracy
Soldiers stand near a banner of Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on May 28, the day before the presidential inauguration.
(PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

Nigeria is preparing for its first inter-party transition of power since the country's democratization in 1999. The success of the transfer will be a telling indicator of Nigeria's geopolitical stability. On May 29, two months after the elections, President Goodluck Jonathan of the People's Democratic Party will hand power to Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress. Had Jonathan remained in office, his continued hold on power would have threatened the stability of the country, and he probably would not have finished his full four-year term. Buhari is in a better position than his predecessor, but he must still balance major political, economic and security concerns if his tenure is to be considered successful.

The defeat of the People's Democratic Party was partially a vote of no confidence in Jonathan's administration. But more fundamental, and geopolitically significant, the election outcome prevented the party from obtaining a monopoly on political and economic power through a narrow constituency that would have placed substantial political and security stress on the Nigerian state at a particularly trying time for the country.

Yet, it will not be an entirely smooth road for incoming president Buhari, a former general and junta leader who presided over Nigeria from 1983 to 1985. Buhari is tasked with restoring Nigeria's territorial integrity and national security, which are threatened by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. He must also manage relations with the indigenous population in the country's oil-producing Niger Delta region. Both tasks will be made more complicated by lower oil and natural gas revenues, which have ushered in a period of austerity. With the budget shortfall, Buhari's All Progressives Congress will have to find a way to support popular programs such as fuel subsidies while also confronting the corruption that is endemic to Nigeria.

Early Signs of Progress, Looming Challenges

Buhari appears to be already pursuing several key policy initiatives. Stratfor sources in the Nigerian military say that morale has soared since Buhari's election and that increased support and materiel provided to the army to attack Boko Haram will be sustained. The military can expect overall support from the government — which had been relatively minimal under the Jonathan administration — to rise.

Meanwhile, Niger Delta militants informed Stratfor that Buhari's team has already reached out to them and was received positively. According to these sources, militancy that in the past targeted expatriate oil workers, oil pipelines, flow stations and loading platforms is unlikely to resume, at least so long as patronage relations with the Buhari administration are not disrupted.

Corruption, on the other hand, will be more difficult for Buhari to manage. Several of the new president's allies have been accused of corruption in the past, and it will be difficult for him to uproot deeply entrenched practices in Nigeria. Given the country's austere financial conditions, it will be almost impossible to balance all the competing demands against the limits of the federal treasury. Reining in and shifting the culture of corruption will not be a short-term task, exacerbating the economic limitations facing Buhari.

There is an overall sense of optimism in Nigeria ahead of this historic government transition. Though the outgoing Jonathan administration may have had a generous style of leadership, Stratfor sources state that he was taken advantage of by his supposed allies in the People's Democratic Party. As a result, Jonathan effectively lost the crucial power-sharing balance needed to effectively govern the country. Buhari will have to govern through a similar power-sharing agreement, through which representatives from Nigeria's six geopolitical zones will be able to facilitate patronage to their respective constituents. Thus, though Buhari is heading into his May 29 inauguration with positive momentum, significant political, economic and security challenges loom.

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