The date March 31, 2015 will go down as an important day in the history of Nigeria, surpassed in the minds of Nigerians only by October 1, 1960. As we know, on that day, President Goodluck Jonathan called General Muhammadu Buhari and conceded the presidential election. It was, for many, a most improbable ending to an election that had created media buzz worldwide and not always for the best reasons. That was all changed by that telephone call and the 30 million Nigerian voters could truly feel that they had made history. In some ways we should not be completely surprised, because many experts on Nigeria as well as political commentators have stated that the appointment of Mr. Attahiru Jega as director of the electoral commission by President Jonathan was an excellent decision, given Mr. Jega’s no nonsense approach and his independence of the president.
Now the former general has ascended to the presidency and taken up his place at Aso Rock we are filled with expectations. We desire to see the Nigeria move forward and take its rightful place in the world, yet we must remember those expectations were formed by what we know: that Nigeria has a highly educated populace (Nigerians are the most educated immigrants in the USA), that Nigeria’s economy is growing and will be one of the largest in the world and that 70% of the 180 million people are under 30.
Yet at the same time we are cautioned to rein in our expectations. Even President Buhari has cautioned us – he may not be able to locate and free those 276+ girls taken in Chibok over a year ago. He followed that up earlier this week stating that he is an older man and he may not be as good in his seventies as he was in his first term as leader in the 1980’s.
What we have seen thus far gives us hope. The President has worked with his neighbors to develop a task force to put Boko Haram on the run and he has told the other members of the of the MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) will not accede to the request that the leadership position of the task force be rotated among members. He believes that for maximum effectiveness, Nigeria must retain the leadership role. Early this week, the President has directed the defense ministry to sell nine jets of the presidential fleet stating that those extra aircraft have bloated the budget and have become an unnecessary expense.
We have seen a leader in Burkina Faso swept out of power by angry young people who were unwilling to wait for another six years to see a change in leadership. We watch as Burundi teeters on the brink of a civil war as her president insists on staying for another term. Next year, the work to stabilize the DRC may be jeopardized if President Kabila insists on staying on for another six years.
The young people of the continent are tired and they are angry and the want a future. Any leader who ignores them does so at their own peril. Likewise the youth will be the drivers of the new economy on the continent. They are connected to each other and the world by their smart technologies and are adroit in the use of social media. The exact same social media that was integral in powering the resistance of the Arab Spring.
The technology will also herald a new direction in the development of the Nigerian economy. Ken Saro – Wiwa, writing recently in The Guardian, quoted Obi Askia: “Kenya and other connected countries like Rwanda and South Africa may be a gateway into Africa, but Nigeria is the destination.”
Accordingly, the direction of the economy will move to tech from its current focus on oil and gas. There are now 70 million connected internet users in Nigeria. They will drive the future direction in Nigeria with their fresh ideas in art, fashion, film, music and tech development. As Mr. Saro – Wiwa stated – 1 in 43 people in the world is a Nigerian he expects the population to double every 25 years, so it is an expectation that Nigeria will lead the economic re-birth of the continent.
We have reason to be optimistic yet realistic too. We are just at the beginning of what should be an exciting time in history. As Nigerians and friends of Nigeria we can do no less than support her as she makes that climb to her full potential in the world.