Muhammadu Buhari scored a historic victory at a delayed presidential election held in late March, marking the first time in Nigeria’s history that an opposition candidate has defeated an elected incumbent. A former coup leader who headed a military government in the mid-1980s, Buhari has described himself as a convert to democracy, and campaigned on pledges to root out corruption, seek the peaceful resolution of violent conflicts that threaten Nigeria’s security and national unity, and address the country’s many social and economic deficiencies, tasks that will be greatly complicated by the financial constraints created by a steep decline in global oil prices.
Buhari will take office in late May, and expectations will be high for quick action and rapid results. The incoming leader’s APC won majorities in both legislative chambers, but the regional, sectarian, and ethnic divisions that woven into Nigeria’s political fabric will pose an ever-present threat to the unity of his legislative allies, and Buhari will need to ensure that spoils of power are spread equitably among his supporters. Significantly, his promised crusade against corruption will not include the vigorous prosecution of past abuses, which may help to dissuade the PDP from adopting a posture of hostility within the legislature.
In terms of economic development, Buhari has stated that his government will focus on economic diversification, job creation, and rising living standards. Priorities will include the provision of reliable power supplies and improvements to roads and other transportation infrastructure, with the private sector—and domestic firms, in particular—taking a leading role in accomplishing the task. He also stressed the need to eliminate threats to domestic security, which will be essential to restoring broken internal trading networks.
There is much in Buhari’s statements to suggest that his election will have a positive impact on the climate for investment and trade. However, delivering on his promises will be a challenge, and there is a significant risk that he could fall victim to unrealistic expectations.