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Buhari’s inauguration, elections and democracy


JBU 7 FOR the first time in Nigeria’s history, an elected president is today handing power to another elected president following an election that was, by and large, free, fair and comparatively peaceful.

President Goodluck Jonathan, in particular, deserves much credit for conceding defeat promptly and elegantly.

I was present when, just three months ago former President Jonathan and his main opponent and incoming President, General Muhammadu Buhari, agreed to peaceful presidential elections by signing an inter-party agreement committing them and their parties to taking active measures to prevent electoral violence before, during and after the elections. They also agreed to respect the outcome of the ballot.

It was an important message, reassuring to both Nigerians and their neighbours, and my foundation and I were pleased to add our support to the electoral effort.  But was this message heard beyond Nigeria’s borders?

The spread of elections across the world has been one of the most dramatic changes I have witnessed over the course of my career.

In country after country, people have risked their lives to be able to vote. Elections are the indispensable tool of democracy.

But in recent years, flawed elections have often eroded the trust of citizens in the democratic process.

Election related violence in countries as disparate as Egypt, Ukraine, Thailand and more recently Burundi demonstrated how elections, which are meant to promote stability and facilitate the peaceful transfer of power, can become divisive if the process is not handled professionally, transparently and with integrity.

It is not surprising that when elections are seen as a mere technical exercise enabling a person or a group to accede to or remain in power in an otherwise wholly undemocratic context, they quickly become a source of disillusionment and violence.

While no election is ever perfect, not even in the most developed and stable democracies, people want their elections to be fair and credible.

The lesson we are learning is that elections alone are not enough, even if all technical and organizational procedures are respected.

The reason is simple: Democracy is not just about legality, critical though the rule of law is for a peaceful society; it is about legitimacy. Elections must offer genuine choice.

On the other hand, if the elections that brought a government to power are seen as rigged or unfair, and the subsequent government does not govern in a democratic manner, it will not enjoy any of the benefits associated with democracy. Indeed, it will find it ever harder to govern at all.

The challenge facing nascent and established democracies alike is to ensure that elections are couched in a democratic spirit, and backed up by strong institutions that can ensure and sustain electoral integrity.

Outgoing President Jonathan has paved the way for peaceful transition. It now befalls upon President-elect Buhari to govern in a democratic spirit, strengthening public institutions and ensuring that upcoming elections at local or parliamentary level do not revert to the old ways.

Let us hope that Nigeria’s recent elections were not a lucky exception but instead signal a new democratic departure from which other countries in Africa and beyond can draw inspiration as they too face the complicated and sometimes perilous challenge of managing political transition.

• Annan is Chair of the Geneva based Kofi Annan Foundation, which mobilizes leaders to ensure that their elections play out peacefully and that their peace processes advance smoothly.

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  • amador kester

    Thanks your excellency for the wonderful piece and its time for nigerians to talk less, speak more and ask themselves this fundamental question : how come our inherited post colonial history is virtually the history of unmitigated corruption in its sophisticated gradations and calibrations,the history of a ruthless civil war from which nothing was learnt and its hangovers like crippling insurgency? When shall we act in tandem to justify the existence of this mighty nation and rewrite our history? …

  • New Nigerian

    The acknowledged and praiseworthy roles played to be on the side of the people by the people & leadership of the USA, UK, and EU in seeing to day of true democratic celebration that today will remain evergreen in our collective memories as a people. Additionally, I want to personally Thank Mr. Kofi Anan, on behalf of independent apostles of change and the Nigerian masses, for his immense contributions as one of the council of wise men (that includes Former Head of State AbdulSalam Abubakar of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Sultan of Sokoto, Dr. Mathew Hassan Kukah and others) whose wise counsel and peace initiatives helped to calm the nerves of ex-President Jonathan, President Buhari and the masses during an extremely competitive election & transition period. I believe a working model have been fashioned out of the Nigerian democratic journey that could be leveraged for a true African renaissance. For this we the people say, thank you and God Bless you all.