Each month we aim to name (and applaud) the person, persons and /or organisation that has surprised us with their bravery in going beyond the norm and proposing or implementing a change to the status quo.
The award for the Change Practitioner for April 2015 goes to…Nigeria, the “Giant of Africa”, with approximately 174 million inhabitants, (the seventh most populous country in the world), 500 ethnic groups and a variety of cultures for:
- The country’s overall (and unexpected) peaceful management of their recent April 2015 democratic elections process; and
- Their acceptance of an outcome which resulted in an unprecedented ousting of the democratically elected incumbent President and his party – the first time since the country’s October 1960 independence.
These were achieved in spite of her challenges
The unprecedented ousting of the incumbent President
Going into these elections, Nigeria had been ruled by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by the President Goodluck Jonathan, since 2010, due to the former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s premature death whilst sill in office. Having served the remainder of the deceased’s Yar’Adua’s term as well as Jonathan’s first term in power, he announced, as many had predicted, that he would stand for a second term. This would effectively see him be in power until 2019, totalling a number of 9 years in office. Despite this seemingly long amount of time as ruler of the country, Jonathan had every reason to believe that his bid for a second term in office would be successful. Ever since the introduction of a democratically elected system in Nigeria no serving president had ever lost a re-election. Until now.
The Jonathan administration during it’s tenure had been marred with many problems, including a troubled economy and the dangerous insurgence of the terrorist militant group Boko Haram largely in the north of the country which resulted in thousands of deaths and the April 2014 kidnapping of 276 school girls which gave birth to the world wide condemnation spearheaded by the #Bring Back Our Girls twitter campaign. Allegations of widespread corruption within the government also plagued Jonathan’s presidency.
Last year Nigeria overtook South Africa as the region’s largest economy, producing Africa’s largest amount of oil, however, many argue that the country’s vast wealth fails to trickle down to the nation’s average citizens. It is reported that as many as 70% of Nigerians currently live below the poverty line, surviving on less than $1 a day.
Major issues like these fuelled the message of the opposing party’s election campaign. The challenger, Muhammadu Buhari (an ex-Military Head of State of Nigeria from 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985, after taking power in a military coup d’état and a self-confessed “converted democrat”) declared that a vote for him would be a vote for change, vowing to “plug holes” in the “corruption infrastructure” in the country. His speech on being declared the winner of the election re-affirmed his change agenda. “Your vote affirms that you believe Nigeria’s future can be better than what it is today”.…You voted for change, and now change has come”.
Peaceful management of the elections processes
As Nigeria awaits President –elect Buhari’s leadership of change and transformation, it can be argued that change had already begun in the manner in which the elections were conducted. Previous Nigerian presidential elections have been marred by violence especially following the announcement of polling results as people wake up to the fact that their favoured party had not won. Supporting a political party in Nigeria is a very emotive issue with decisions on whom to vote for based on such important issues as tribe/ethnicity, geographical allegiance, religion, and election manifesto…often in that order. Post election violence clashes have resulted in deaths in the past as was evidenced in the 2011 elections. Unsurprisingly, many people this time around fled their homes and businesses amid fears of a repeat occurrence.
Both Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammdu Buhari and their parties broadly epitomise this North / South, ethnicity and religious divide in Nigeria. As such, tensions were very high and internationally, Nigeria was in the spot light.
Overall, this election was largely extremely peaceful, to the surprise and relief of many citizens and the world over. The outcome won the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan significant international admiration as he became the first President to graciously and timely concede defeat. In a written statement he thanked Nigerians for supporting him during his tenure, reiterating that he had “promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word”. He has since publically admitted that his decision not to fight the election results has cost him many “friends”.
In a country which many believe has election malpractices in its DNA, what Jonathan and his administration has achieved is no mean feat and shows that change is possible.
A wise man once said that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. If an entire nation can unlearn and relearn what it means to have a fair and democratic process and implement these lessons in many of its processes going forward, the possibilities for this to be diffused into hearts and minds and behaviours are endless and means that the change agenda which the new President promised is most definitely within reach….in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.
 Alvin Toffler