Muhammadu Buhari - Nigeria’s New President
Alexander MEZYAEV | 04.04.2015 | OPINION

Muhammadu Buhari - Nigeria’s New President

On April 1, the election commission of the Federal Republic of Nigeria - a country with vast mineral wealth and a population of 185 million - announced that a new president had been elected, a professional soldier named General Muhammadu Buhari, who attracted nearly 54% of the vote, beating the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan.

The new Nigerian president has a colorful history. In the 1980s he was behind a coup that forced out the democratically elected president, but after a year and a half he was himself overthrown during a takeover led by General Ibrahim Babangida. That was not Muhammadu Buhari’s first revolution. He took part in his first coup d’état back in 1966 when he and other generals ousted the military dictatorship of Aguiyi Ironsi. 

The recent voting in Nigeria was divided along clear ethnic lines. Buhari is a member of the Hausa ethnic group, and received many votes from fellow tribesmen in the North, but his candidacy was also supported by members of Nigeria’s second largest clan, the Yoruba (in the Southwest), because Buhari selected a Yoruba, Yemi Osinbajo, to be his vice president. That meant that the Hausa running mate chosen by the current president, Goodluck Jonathan, did not provide him with sufficient support from voters who cast their ballots along ethnic lines, as is often the case in Nigeria. But Goodluck Jonathan (a member of the Ijaw clan), (1) had been counting on the fact that 40% of the Nigerian population does not belong to one of the three main ethnic groups, and those voters feel aggrieved and dissatisfied with the rotating list of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo leaders who have ruled Nigeria since the country won its independence in 1960.

The primary domestic problems in Nigeria are related to security and the fight against the Boko Haram terrorists. Buhari has proposed the creation of a new special unit to combat the wave of kidnapping, robbery, and other serious crimes that have swept the country. Until now the government’s hands have been tied in the fight against terrorism. Whenever the army has carried out operations to oust insurgents, the «international community» and, in particular, the International Criminal Court, has threatened the Nigerian government, demanding that «respect for human rights» be preserved during these operations.

Buhari’s foreign policy is notable for its proposal to «establish a special relationship» with the BRICS countries, particularly with Russia. The new president also plans to complete the creation of a free-trade zone - the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) - and to introduce a common currency in those nations. He sees Nigeria as a leader of this association. (2)

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa and possesses some of the greatest oil reserves in the world. The country also has immense reserves of natural gas (the known reserves total a quarter of a billion cubic meters), as well as coal, gold, bauxite, zinc, iron ore, tantalum, niobium, and other minerals. And in recent years Nigeria has been on a path to industrialize. It is a little-known fact that Nigeria has an electronics industry that produces its own computers and other electronic devices. The local auto industry also enjoys generous support (which includes levying expensive duties on imported cars). In 2014, Nigeria had the fastest growing economy in Africa, outpacing South Africa. (3) In our opinion, it follows that the terror that has been suddenly unleashed throughout the country by Boko Haram is linked to this policy of development. As has been seen in Libya and other states, the West deals quite harshly with countries that attempt to pursue an independent course of development, persecuting them until the very institution of the state has been destroyed.

The «international community’s» interference in the recent Nigerian elections was clearly excessive in nature. The US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria in January and met with the two leading presidential candidates. Oil remains uppermost on the Americans’ minds. The US is the biggest importer of Nigerian oil (4), and it is important for them to be able to keep all the political forces within the country in check. Incidentally, John Kerry’s meeting with both candidates was reminiscent of a well-known incident in July 1994, in which a «radical solution» was used to settle the power struggle in Nigeria: at that time there was a «strange incident» during which, over the course of a single day, both the acting and the newly elected presidents of Nigeria died (Sani Abacha and Moshood Abiola), and the latter died while meeting with ... a delegation from the US. (5) 

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon tried his utmost to influence the course of the presidential elections in Nigeria. However, it was the International Criminal Court (ICC) that was the most shameless about putting overt pressure on Nigeria. In December 2014 the ICC prosecutor issued a report on Nigeria. Given the situation in the country, it was assumed that an investigation would be launched into the crimes committed by Boko Haram (BH), but the ICC prosecutor suddenly announced that she had more incriminating evidence against Nigerian government officials than against BH, because the government was allegedly using «indiscriminate force» against BH militants. A few weeks later, several lawyers tried to initiate legal proceedings within the ICC, on the basis of a statement General Buhari made back in 2011 and which allegedly resulted in the deathes of about 800 people. (6)

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda also made an unprecedented announcement before the day of the Nigerian elections, in which she «issued a warning» that her office would «closely monitor the elections.» (7) This statement should have convinced Nigerians that, as a signatory to the ICC’s Rome Statute, Nigeria is no longer a sovereign state, although the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court is complementary, meaning that it plays a supplementary role to the state jurisdiction of its member nations. 

Judging by General Muhammadu Buhari’s election platform, the government of Nigeria is going to have to face some very difficult foreign-policy challenges. Perhaps a «special relationship» with the BRICS countries, representing a prototype of a new, alternative system of international relations, could help ease the work ahead for the Nigerian leadership.

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1) The Ijaw people make up only 2% of the total population of Nigeria.
2) See Muhammadu Buhari’s official website: http://thisisbuhari.com
3) For further details see: Nigerian Economy Overtakes South Africa’s on Rebased GDP
4) Other major importers include Brazil, Spain, other Western European countries, and South Africa.
5) The delegation included the well-known American diplomats Thomas Pickering and Susan Rice. The sudden death of the incumbent leader of Nigeria, Sani Abacha, has still not been investigated and the cause of his death has not been objectively established.
6) For further details see.
7) Statement by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, ahead of elections in Nigeria: «I reiterate my call to refrain from violence» 16/03/2015 

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