By Sunil Vaswani
19 April 2015
Three weeks ago, the former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari became the first ever opposition candidate to win a presidential election in Nigeria. It was also the first time ever a sitting president had been unseated in a nation that has seen several coups and rigged elections since its independence from Britain in 1960.
Thankfully, there were no signs of any post-poll violence that had dominated media expectations before the elections. A great win for democracy and the power of the people!
The nation of 170m people had been on tenterhooks for several weeks leading up to the elections on March 29, having encountered a postponement from February 14 that had raised some eyebrows.
I was watching with concern as the world media expressed high pessimism in the background of terrorist violence, religious tensions and anticipated political turmoil in the wake of the elections.
In an admirable show of democratic values, the Nigerians proved the world wrong, shutting down the widespread scepticism and running a largely systematic election process across this vast nation. Nigeria’s independent electoral commission, INEC, also did a commendable job.
In my assessment, a historic milestone for democracy has been achieved in Africa by the continent’s largest economy. An exemplary show by a country plagued by issues. I am pained to see Nigeria receiving often undeserved criticism by many who fail to understand.
The crowning glory was when in show of unprecedented statesmanship, the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan telephoned Buhari to concede defeat and convey his congratulations - an important step that helped defuse tension and prevent any possibilities of post-election trouble on the streets.
I am impressed with the manner in which Nigeria has effected a change of leadership, establishing a terrific precedent for other African countries to follow. This takes the country several notches up in terms of its image and reputation, as it seeks to emerge as a major economic giant in the coming years.
With a large business presence in the country for the past 45 years, I do hope that the new leadership will pursue business-friendly policies aimed at realising the country’s true potential as the continent’s leading nation.
The socio-economic challenges for the new leader are indeed phenomenal; with the falling oil prices, receding reserves, a depreciating currency, extremist violence and others. However, over the past few years Nigeria has created the momentum for growth in agriculture and several key industrial sectors. These include rice production, cement, sugar, automobiles and several others.
Apart from the oil reserves, the country is bestowed with abundance of natural resources, fertile land, rains and strategic location.
However, the country is still highly oil dependent with several mass consumption products being imported. Nearly 90 percent of the export revenue comes from petroleum and a high 35 percent of GDP is from the oil and gas sector. There is an imperative need for Nigeria to reduce its dependence on oil and oil prices.
On the positive side, the country has seen the emergence of a strong banking industry and accomplished Nigerian business leaders who have made a mark in establishing large-scale industries. Some of them are expanding their businesses into other countries within Africa.
Nigeria needs outstanding leadership to sustain the growth in critical industries and drive efforts to effectively utilise natural and human resources. Leading the country into diversifying away from oil would be the key to success.
In this context, I get the feeling that the current drop in oil prices will spur action, focus and growth in other sectors like agriculture and industries.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) will be one of the vital forces in determining the progress of Nigeria’s growth; I presume FDI players with a risk appetite for the country will wait to see the political and economic outlook take shape in the coming days as the new government settles in.
Again it is important to make sure that there is stability, transparency and environment to attract FDI in the background of currency-rate uncertainty.
My contention is that Nigeria will overcome all the odds and reach a prime position in the world economy. The demonstrated support for a thriving democracy last month is a loud and clear sign.
I wish the very best for Nigeria and its president-elect. Congratulations Nigeria!