• For president-elect Buhari, winning the election was the easy part. Leading and fulfilling the expectations of this potentially wealthy but underperforming country will be harder. Change will not happen overnight.
  • Nigerians are hoping that the incoming government will provide strong leadership and strengthen national institutions, while building on the positive policies of the outgoing administration.
  • Buhari will certainly be inheriting a lot more that the unfinished business of making Nigeria an agriculturally industrialised economy, fixing education, healthcare, unemployment, power, police-community relations and the huge infrastructure deficit.

Nigeria’s 2015 elections have come and gone. For those who predicted and still expect political Armageddon, disappointment looms.

Fewer than a sixth of Nigeria’s 170 million population voted in the elections; and the country continues to sail peacefully through its most introspective moment in history. It is the dawn of a new era and the political prognosis for this 54-year-old nation remains cautiously optimistic.

With the poll fever treated and cured, Africa’s most populous and largest economy has moved seamlessly into inauguration mode. Nigeria’s new future begins on May 29. On this day, Abuja will host local and international dignitaries as 57-year-old President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan hands over power to retired army general Muhammadu Buhari, 72.

Buhari is not a newcomer to national politics and Nigerians know him very well. Loved by those who say he is a squeaky-clean man with Spartan principles and a personal vision of an egalitarian society, he was a regional governor and minister of petroleum in the early 1970s. He was also a military head of state between December 1983 and August 1985.

Under Buhari, the government had a low tolerance for corruption and social indiscipline; and he was loathed by many on account of his draconian reign.

In 20 months as commander-in-chief, about 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed for corruption. He was the ultimate autocrat. An anti-corruption czar who didn’t care whose “ox was gored.” Working with the Israeli secret service, his regime’s attempt to kidnap and ship a corrupt politician who had fled to London back home in a crate (labelled diplomatic baggage) was foiled by the British authorities.

It was Gen Ibrahim Babaginda’s putsch that eventually ended Buhari’s rule, landing him in detention for months.

A taciturn, slightly laconic character, this year’s election was Buhari’s fourth but most organised attempt at high office, having run unsuccessfully in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 election.

So now, he’s a converted democrat. Nigerians however have a saying: “Old soldier never die,” a pidgin English reference to how difficult it is to change folks hitherto steeped in military traditions.

Many Nigerians today believe the old general’s views about what is wrong with Nigeria and how to fix things may not have changed very much over the years. They eagerly await to see how he will preside over the affairs of his country, under a free, democratic dispensation.

Expectedly, Buhari’s 2015 campaign theme was “change.” In the months leading to the election, the incumbent Jonathan’s team ramped up their newspaper, outdoor, television and Internet campaigns, mostly attacking Buhari’s education, health and human rights records.

Buhari’s team however kept their media messaging and town hall meetings with citizens focused on the key issues most Nigerians cared about: The economy, corruption and Boko Haram.

The electorate simply desired change, or as one politician told me, “a drastic amendment to the status quo.” They had had enough of the “nice man, weak leader” who had been their president since 2010.

What lies ahead

So, for president-elect Buhari, winning this election was the easy part. Leading and fulfilling the expectations of this potentially wealthy but underperforming country will be harder. Change will not happen overnight.