Can four more years of Muhammadu Buhari restore hope in deeply divided Nigeria?
The conspicuous absence of Buhari's immediate predecessors, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, from Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony, coupled with the president's failure to address Nigerians on the occasion has set tongues wagging.
Message of silence
“This is confirmation that the president has nothing to offer Nigerians,” warned Uche Secondus, national chairman of the main opposition People's Democratic Party which has challenged Buhari's re-election in the courts.
In an interview with Vanguard, the PDP leader also noted that the president's silence reinforces the truism that a product of flawed electoral process cannot serve the people or meet their aspirations under a constitutional democracy.
“He may have caught the bug of sadness pervading the country," commented Social Democratic Party spokesman Alfa Mohammed in a reaction to Punch newspaper.
His remarks came amid widespread concerns about the level of poverty and insecurity which forced newly-elected state governors to hold crisis meetings with Buhari just days before his inauguration.
While bread-and-butter issues as well as Buhari's resolve to battle corruption are set to dominate the agenda of his new term of office, democracy activists are pointing at an irony of sorts. It is a former junta leader who is now the staunchest defender of the country's delicate democratic balance.
Ayo Adebanjo was one of the founders of the National Democratic Coalition set up in 1994 to secure the release from prison of Chief Moshood Abiola.
The tycoon who won the 1994 democratic Presidential elections was jailed by then military dictator Sani Abacha just as he prepared to take office.
Abiola allegedly died from heart failure at a Lagos hospital where he was rushed from his military prison in July 1998 less than a month after Abacha suffered the same fate, allegedly “while visiting with two ladies of the night” in the presidential residence.
While the dramatic events of 1998 are believed to have laid the foundation for Nigeria's return to democratic rule, human rights activists who waged a 4-year campaign look back to that era with mixed feelings.
“Most of us who fought Abacha and fought for democracy have not got what we fought for,” regrets Ayo Adebanjo, a founding member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which fought to secure Moshood Abiola's release.
Chief Adebanjo describes Muhammadu Buhari's presidency as “disastrous,” particularly on issues regarding the rule of law.
“The military training he had and the dictatorial ways attached to the military are very much in him”, observed the long-time rights activist who is now a senior member of the ethnic Pan-Yoruba Ahenifere organization.
Chief Adebanjo also claims that Buhari's alleged ambition to “Fulanize” Nigeria through Islamic indoctrination has been exposed.
According to the Ahenifere chieftain, “Buhari is ruling Nigeria with impunity,” adding that had he been a true democrat, he would have freed all the personalities languishing in jail without trial.
He reiterates damning remarks made in a recent Punch interview, that Buhari “did nothing during the past four years, to show that he is not an imperialist”.
Muhammadu Buhari's low-key inauguration at Abuja's Eagle Square on 29 May, is likely to contrast with the grandiose celebration of Nigeria's Democracy Day on 12 June.
The national holiday will mark 20 years since the military handed over power to an elected civilian government in 1999.
Some pro-democracy activists plan to turn the anniversary into a day of remembrance for Moshood Abiola whose death unleashed the popular revolt that forced the military to relinquish power.
“The 4th Republic was not secured on a platter of gold,” argues Ayo Opadokun, General Secretary and spokesman of the National Democratic Coalition.
“Some of us paid with our sweat and our blood,” he said, adding that, “the martyrdom of people like Abiola paved the way for the 4th Republic."
Island in an ocean
Opadokun also showers praise on Buhari for his contributions in keeping the 4th Republic on an irreversible path. “Critically he is like an island in an ocean of debauchery and a marathon runner in the campaign to weed out corruption from Nigerian society.
“That has led to a situation where he has exposed thievery committed by some of his seniors and juniors in political office which has caused them to gang up against him,” concludes the veteran democracy activist.