In his speech soon after he collected his certificate of return at the International Conference Centre, Abuja on Wednesday President-elect Muhammadu Buhari began to flesh out on the skeletal promise of change that his incoming administration will bring about. The speech shed some light, but not nearly enough. President-elect Buhari told Nigerians in his speech titled ‘The Die is Cast’ that “My team and I shall faithfully serve you.” This will sound to many as a promise routinely made by in-coming rulers, except that Buhari’s public service record indicates that he could live up to this pledge. He also said, “There shall no longer be a ruling party again. APC will be your governing party. We shall faithfully serve you. We shall never rule over the people as if they were subservient to government.” The distinction between a ruling and a governing party is not clear at this stage; it will need more elucidation. The President-elect also said, “Our long night has passed and the daylight of new democratic governance has broken across the land. This therefore is not a victory for one man or even one party. It is a victory for Nigeria and for all Nigerians. Millions of you have worked for this day. So many have risked life and livelihood and others have died that we may witness this moment.” Again this may sound like regular political rhetoric unless the promise of a new democratic daylight in clearly spelt out. Given Buhari’s record as a stern former military ruler, democratic inclination is not one of his strongest selling points right now.Another thing General Buhari said in his speech was, “Let us put the past, especially the recent past, behind us. We must forget our old battles and past grievances-and learn to forge ahead. I assure you that our government is one that will listen to and embrace all. I pledge myself and our in-coming administration to just and principled governance. There shall be no bias against or favouritism for any Nigerian based on ethnicity, religion, region, gender or social status.” That there should be no discrimination based on these primordial factors is actually mandated by the 1999 Constitution. All previous regimes pledged to respect these provisions but ended up doing so in the breach. If APC intends to live up to this pledge, it must work out the practical modalities for doing so. President-elect Buhari also said, “I pledge myself and the government to the rule of law in which none shall be so above the law that they are not subject to its dictates and none shall be so below it that they are not availed of its protection.” This is a very beautiful phrase indeed but unless the incoming regime works out its modalities it could again founder at the level of implementation. It is the curse of Nigerian society that rich and powerful people think they should not be subject to the law while the poor people often think that rules and regulations should excuse them because they are poor. He added, “You shall be able to go to bed knowing that you are safe and that your constitutional rights remain in safe hands.” If this implies that Nigerians will be safe from armed robbers, kidnappers, pipeline vandals, reckless drivers, cattle rustlers and Improvised Explosive Devices then this will be very welcome change indeed. He also said, “You shall be able to voice your opinion without fear of reprisal or victimisation...You are all my people and I shall treat everyone of you as my own. I shall work for those who voted for me as well as those who voted against me and even for those who did not vote at all.” Usually a Nigerian government works only for those who voted for it in the matter of project siting and award of contracts so it is important to see if Buhari’s regime will change this tradition.The President-elect then said, “I extend a hand of friendship and conciliation to President Jonathan and his team. I hereby wish to state that I harbour no ill will against anyone. Let me state clearly that President Jonathan has nothing to fear from me. Although we may not agree on the methods of governing the nation, he is a great Nigerian and still our president. He deserves our support and permanent respect by virtue of the office he has held. This is how an honourable nation treats its servants and conducts its affairs and this is how Nigeria should be.” This pledge is open to many interpretations, not all of them positive. Is it a pledge not to probe or reopen the case files of many Jonathan-era scandals such as fuel imports, subsidy payments, missing NNPC funds, N10 billion plane charters, oil pipeline safety contracts, purchase of bullet proof cars, Ministry of Justice’s plea bargains and the trillions spent on the anti-terror war? President-elect Muhammadu Buhari listed some of the major challenges facing Nigeria to include “insecurity, corruption and economic decline.” Indeed these are the big three. He elucidated on the first one, saying “this nation has suffered greatly in the recent past and its staying power has been tested to its limits by crises, chief among which is insurgency of the Boko Haram. There is no doubt that in tackling the insurgency we have a tough and urgent job to do. But I assure you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror and bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas. We shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism.” The way things are going in the North East, the Boko Haram insurgency could become a much less serious issue by the time the Buhari regime takes over, though no one can be certain. He also elaborated on the second major challenge. He said, “We shall strongly battle another form of evil that is even worse than terrorism-the evil of corruption. Corruption attacks and seeks to destroy our national institutions and character. By misdirecting into selfish hands funds intended for the public purpose corruption distorts the economy and worsens income inequality. It creates a class of unjustly-enriched people. Such an illegal yet powerful force soon comes to undermine democracy because its conspirators have amassed so much money that they believe they can buy government. We shall end this threat to our economic development and democratic survival. I repeat that corruption will not be tolerated by this administration and it shall no longer be allowed to stand as if it is a respected monument in this nation.” These are stirring words indeed but to actualise it the president-elect must rely not only on the force of his personal example but on long-term institutional reforms. For the latter a detailed plan is needed. General Buhari also indicated that Nigeria might return to the era of activist foreign policy. He said in his speech, “I assure all foreign governments that Nigeria will become a more forceful and constructive player in the global fight against terrorism and in other matters of collective concern such as the fight against drugs, climate change, financial fraud, communicable diseases and other issues requiring global response.” He also assured “our fellow African nations that Nigeria will now stand as a more constructive partner in advancing the matters of concern to our continent, particularly with regard to economic development and eradication of poverty.” He then tried to lower expectations. He said, “I realise that the expectation of our people today is as high as their commitment to change has been strong and their belief in us unshaken. While we pledge to begin doing our best without delay, we would like to appeal to them to appreciate the gravity of our situation so that we become more realistic in our expectations.” In other words, don’t expect everything to change overnight just because the harbingers of “Change!” are in power.
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