Everyone's in favour of progress. It's just change they don't like. Anon.
A sensitive celebration of the first year anniversary of the inauguration of President Buhari will not roll out the loudest drums. True, there are good reasons why the anniversary should be loud and noisy, but restraints in the manner a major watershed in Nigeria's history will be celebrated are likely to be placed by a sober recognition of the state of the nation. It is rare for Nigerians to wear long faces on festive occasions, but this is one of those occasions when reflection is best suited.
This time last year, most Nigerians were looking forward to the benefits of the emergence of a new administration that would set new standards and direction for the nation. The fact that this administration emerged at all is a small miracle. There were genuine fears of the consequences of a Buhari on lives and assets at the top echelons of the Jonathan administration. Every trick in the book was employed to frustrate that possibility, and was resisted by a citizenry that had made up its mind to trust the General who was to fight insecurity and corruption. The international community had made it clear that it would welcome a change in leadership that will address the threats to the country and stop the brazen pillaging of the nation's economy. When it became clear that losing will represent an unacceptable option for Jonathan's circle, incredible stores of energy, muscle and goodwill were deployed by Nigerians and foreign friends to persuade both contestants to concede if they lost, and to seek assurances that there were to be no persecutions.
The combination of a credible electoral process and a productive mediation on possible outcomes saw the nation conduct largely peaceful and credible elections, defying the most frightening, but not altogether baseless projections to the contrary. Nigerians set a new mark on a spectrum with extremes of condemnable and commendable, moving from our traditional role of leading Africa towards the former. A president emerged who had contested and vigorously challenged his loss three times. An electoral system that had been a major liability for the nation's democratic process delivered the will of the people without the usual flow of blood and threats to the nation's survival. An incumbent president was defeated for the first time in Nigeria's history. A party that had grown fat and complacent from patronage and spoils of office was roundly rejected by Nigerians. The results reflected some of the traditional geo-political character of the nation, but on the whole, they showed a nation willing to move beyond its historical comfort zones to create something new.
And so the Buhari presidency was ushered in with very high expectations. Hard-pressed Nigerians running from bombs and bullets or chasing crumbs from vast resources being stolen felt they had created their own government. The world was relieved that Nigeria survived its elections and had a leader it can do business with. The appetite for major improvements in security, management of the economy and integrity of the governance process had been whetted by the reputation and the promises of President Buhari. The opposition was in disarray, and few would question the capacity of the new administration to deliver on its promises.
A year down the road, you will be lynched in many parts of the north if you said that security of lives has not been improved as a result of the successes against Boko Haram. The people in the north-east will still sleep better if there are no lingering threats from suicide bombers and insurgents holed up in forests, as well as over two million fellow citizens living in camps. No one holds President Buhari responsible for this, but parents of the Chibok girls and thousands whose relations are also missing will want them home. As Boko Haram retreated, new and recycled threats emerged, some exploiting weaknesses in our internal security assets, others with more patently political undertones. A neo-Biafra group was making the case with threats and blood that Nigeria and Igbos had no place for each other. Inter-communal violence involving sophisticated weapons assumed uncanny political character and threatens to compound major worries over the state's capacity to secure communities. Then, parts of the Niger Delta exploded with bombs destroying oil and gas assets, and voices behind them demanding major political concessions. The disastrous collapse of crude price is now being made worse by losses of huge quantities of exportable crude to organized violence seeking political goals, the classic definition of terror.
The intimate relationship between security, politics and the economy has been made more prominent in the last few months. The anti-corruption war is likely being resisted by exploiting major weaknesses or links in the Nigerian economic chain. The manner the fight itself is being fought has created massive expectations that could pose problems owing to the fact that it has to be processed and channelled through a problematic judicial process. Impatient Nigerians want assets confiscated, restitutions made and culprits in jail now. Many believe that stolen wealth and retrieved funds can be deployed to cushion the effects of the economic recession that is making life very difficult for them.
Many Nigerians still have faith that President Buhari means well, and will do better if the economic circumstances in which he has had to govern were better. A segment is losing patience and demanding for relief, not apologies. They say they elected President Buhari to fix problems, not remind them that he did not create them. There are also millions who believe that Buhari will find solutions. This group is among the most badly affected by rising prices of food and all other basic commodities, yet they defeated the plans of organized labour to reject the new, higher fuel prices. They will go even further with the President, but crushing poverty and hunger tend to abridge loyalty.
The immediate future will not be a source of great joy to most Nigerians. They could be told it can be a lot worse under another president, but Buhari is the president today. Nigerians will want to see genuine attempts to bring relief to their hardships. They will believe Buhari if he engages them and shares with them the facts of our existence and what can or cannot be done. They will want to see a compassionate government; one that fairly shares the resources meant for the poor and the vulnerable; one in which people with responsibility show discipline and make sacrifices. In spite of their muted celebrations, Nigerians know that they created a source of hope and improvements in their lives. The leaders they elected now have to assure them that that hope is alive.