Hope, Wrapped In Skepticism: Nigerians React to the Big Election

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” says Dr. Okome, a professor of African history.

Martin Adamu and Olusegun Lewis reflect on Nigeria's big win at the Consulate General of Nigeria, NY (c) 2015 Ony Nwaohuocha.

Martin Adamu and Olusegun Lewis reflect on Nigeria’s election at the Consulate General of Nigeria (Solange Uwimana_Ony Nwaohuocha/NY City Lens).

 

On April 1, 2015, Nigeria made history in Africa and the world. Muhammadu Buhari won the presidential race in the nation’s’s first democratic election, beating out incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, who conceded. The news was greeted in Nigeria and elsewhere with elation.

But some Nigerian New Yorkers seem less excited about this democratic victory and whether it truly symbolizes a “new day” in Africa’s most populous nation. Along with feelings of hope and anticipation lies a level of skepticism.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” says Dr. Mojubaolu Okome, professor of political science and African and women studies at Brooklyn College. Okome says she wants to believe in Buhari, and in “his seriousness,” but she has her reservations.

Voters turned out in support of Buhari after many disappointments with Jonathan’s management of national security. In the past four years of his presidency, Nigeria has faced a rise in Islamic militants from the group known as Boko Haram, which killed hundreds of citizens in Northern Nigeria  and  abducted more than 200 school girls, leading to an international outcry.

Yet, Jonathan kept to his promise and graciously handed over power with out opposition to President-elect Muhammmadu Buhari, who won with 55 percent.

It “seems like we are seeing a somewhat ‘new day,’ but let’s hope it lasts,” Okome says.

Nkechi Ogbodo, president of Kechi’s Project, a nonprofit girls rights organization in New York City, says “ I want to come in with an open mind that this guy is going to do something better, but lets not forget that he is also from the northern part of the country, where women issues and girls issues are neglected.”

Both Okome and Ogbodo are activists and leaders in the Bring Back Our Girls movement, a coalition of women who gather around the world to demand that the 219 Nigerian schoolchildren who were abducted by Boko Haram a year ago be released. Today marks 355 days since their abduction.

It was Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to stop the rise of Boko Haram and his lack of zeal and transparency in dealing with the abducted school girls—all from Chibok, in the northern Nigeria—that fostered doubt that he would address the issues in his second term, some Nigerian- Americans feel.

But some of those Nigerian Americans believe that the election will indeed bring change. “It was an insult to the intelligence of the Nigerians, regarding how Jonathan’s administration did what they did in the last months,” says Evon Idahosa, an attorney and founder of PathFinders Justice Initiative, Inc., a social justice initiative that helps survivors of gender based violence globally. 

“It’s no longer politics as usual”  says Idahosa, who believes that Buhari will do what he promised and finally bring back the Chibock girls.

“A crucial mention is that both presidential candidates made it their point to put security above everything,” says Yetunde A. Odugbesan, a professor at Rutgers University and youth chair of Nigerians in the Diaspora (NIDO-NJ). Thus, “for Buhari, people looked to him for hope.” Odugbesan feels that hope is what led to his victory. 

Buhari made many promises about eliminating Boko Haram and said he would do so in the first several months. Nigeria’s hope is that he fulfills his promises, Odugbesan says.

But “We are not expecting miracles and a quick fix,” says Martin Adamu, 47, a minister in the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations in New York City. “He is not a messiah,” he continues. “ Not only is the onus on leadership but it falls on the ownership of Nigerians to change Nigeria.”

Adamu notes that the victory is not Buhari’s, but belongs “to the Democratic Republic of Nigeria,” he said, who have suffered from the hands of notorious corrupt political leaders in the past.

Things are getting slightly better. “ Now the people have faith in the electoral process.” Odugbesan says.

“Nigerians are like, ‘enough is enough,’” says Odugbesan. “For the first time in history Nigerians used voting as a tool for outcry” and she says and this time “they made their voices heard.”

Now, the stakes are high for Buhari to turn Nigeria around economically and politically. “I think that Buhari has a lot to lose, so he will try to bring back the girls,” says Idahosa.

In addition, Buhari “will fight corruption and rebuild the military,” says New York City lawyer, Adedayo Soneye. Now “regarding economy development, it will be left to the team he surrounds himself” and fellow Nigerians, he said.

Still, some Nigerians want to wait and see. “People are making it irrespective of who is in power,” says Seun Ariyo, an entrepreneur and business consultant based in Newark.

“This is a good sign,” he says, but:  “After the euphoria, work still needs to be done, and what happens next?”

 

 

 

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