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Some Nigerians Wondering About Their Next Leader

2015-4-12

Nigerians have voted a former dictator as their next president.

Muhammadu Buhari, age 72, is a retired general and former military leader. Today, he says he is a born-again democrat. But those who remember his strict military regime wonder if he is really a changed man.

In 1983, Mr. Buhari took power in a military coup and ruled Nigeria for 20 months. He ran unsuccessfully for president three times before beating Goodluck Jonathan in the country抯 March elections. His victory was the first time in Nigeria that a candidate has defeated a sitting president in an election.


Nigerian former Gen. Muhammadu Buhari speaks to journalists in Abuja, Nigeria, Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

Many questions

Many people are calling Mr. Buhari抯 victory a political turning point and a major step forward for democracy in Nigeria. But some people, such as artist Femi Kuti, are asking why the world is celebrating a former military dictator.

揇o I believe he is a changed man? I don抰 think so. And if he抯 a changed man, is his surroundings, the people in his political party, are they changed? Can he convince them to change? Can he convince them not to be corrupt? I don抰 believe so, but then I don抰 want to be pessimistic.?/P>

Femi Kuti is the son of singer and Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. Thirty years ago, a military court under then-dictator Muhammadu Buhari sentenced Fela Kuti to five years in prison. Human rights group Amnesty International declared the singer a political detainee and campaigned for his release.

His son remembers the event well. He says his father was falsely charged.

揑t was horrific. It was terroristic. It was depressing. Let抯 take for instance the story of my father, who was arrested for taking ?,600 ($2,200). And he declared it, and he was charged and jailed. I witnessed the beatings, and the trauma and all what my father went through.?/P>

Mr. Buhari has taken full responsibility for his actions during his time in power. He has apologized to political opponents. In a speech, he called himself a reformed, or changed, democrat.

Political analyst Cheta Nwanze says he does see a difference between Mr. Buhari now and then.

揝ome of the language that has been coming from him this time around is not as firm as it used to be back in the day. In the previous three elections, there was this sort of air of 'it抯 my way or the highway.' It抯 kind of like the last four years have actually taught him that (in a) democracy you don抰 achieve results by giving orders, but by compromise.?/P>

War on indiscipline

During his time in power in the 1980s, Mr. Buhari declared what he called a 搘ar on indiscipline.?/P>

Political opponents and critics of his regime were jailed. He introduced plans to end corruption, fought against drug trafficking and forced citizens to form neat lines at bus stops. His laws restricting press freedom were the worst in the country抯 history.

Today, journalist Alkasim Abdulkadir says Mr. Buhari is a reformed leader who is ready to work with other countries, political parties and ethnic groups.

揙nly a democrat will talk about international cooperation within African states, with Western powers, will talk about how to collectively tackle the insurgency, how to collectively tackle corruption because these are yields that can only be tackled in a very cooperative manner.?/P>

Held accountable

Mr. Buhari has promised to improve the situation Nigeria. He says he will deal with corruption and inequality between rich and poor. And, he says, he will improve security in the country抯 northeast. There, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram leads an increasingly violent rebellion.

Umar Dala is a retired police officer from the country抯 northeast. He says the rise of the Boko Haram militant group is a symbol of the former government抯 failure. Mr. Dala strongly believes Mr. Buhari is the best leader for Nigeria.

"He has the experience. He knows the problem(s) of the country more than any other person.挃

The recent election sends a strong message to Mr. Buhari, too. If he fails, the voters will remove him from office.

I抦 Jim Tedder.

Reporter Katarina Hoije in Nigeria prepared this story for VOA. Kelly Jean Kelly wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

pessimistic ?adj. having a lack of hope for the future; expecting bad things to happen

compromise ?v. to give up something you want in order to reach an agreement

tackle ?v. to deal with something difficult