Political manoeuvring intensifies as the 2019 elections approach

During the 2015 election campaign, Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) positioned themselves as a ‘movement for change’, promising to bring the Boko Haram insurgency to a rapid end, tackle corruption and promote more ‘inclusive’ economic growth. While they have been some achievements to their name on the first two counts, most observers feel that they have barely got off first base on the last.

The APC has been plagued by internal divisions since taking office. On 4 July, a faction calling itself ‘Reformed-APC’ (R-APC) announced that it no longer supported President Buhari. Experts suspect that powerful interests lie behind the new faction and that there could be more high-profile defections to come.

Meanwhile, the PDP has been talking with over 30 of the country’s 68 registered parties about forming an electoral alliance. On 9 July, its efforts bore fruit. It, the R-APC and 37 other parties agreed an electoral alliance, under which they will field a joint presidential candidate next year.

All this means Buhari could have his work cut-out to win the 2019 elections. But there is still everything to play for.

Buhari’s mixed record on security and combating corruption

There have been some successes on the security front since 2015, but Buhari and the APC government have found themselves fighting on at least as many fronts as their predecessors. Boko Haram has been pushed out of most of the territory which it controlled in Northeast Nigeria since President Buhari took office. Foreign countries, including the UK, have scaled up their assistance to the Nigerian army.

in December 2015, Buhari went so far as to announce that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated”. While it was certainly “on the back foot”, Buhari’s claim was widely viewed at the time as an over-statement. This is an assessment that has been borne out by developments over the last three years.

The northeast is far from the only part of Nigeria experiencing high levels of insecurity. As at March 2018 the Nigerian army was reportedly active in 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states. In the ‘Middle Belt’ of the country, inter-communal violence, which has been a permanent fixture of Nigerian life for many years, has again been escalating alarmingly. In the Southeast, following Buhari’s election victory in 2015 there was a revival of Igbo agitation for a separate Biafran state. Heavy state repression and internal divisions amongst activists have led to a reduction in levels of unrest during the last year.

The authorities continue to face challenges in maintaining peace and security in the oil-rich Niger Delta, where attacks on oil pipelines by a new generation of militants have been largely in abeyance since 2016. But there is perpetual anxiety that violence could flare up again at any time.

On anti-corruption, action has been taken against former office-holders from the presidency of Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. However, critics argue that some the steps taken on anti-corruption have been politically-motivated, rather than ‘without fear or favour’. As is often the case in Nigeria, investigations have proceeded at a snail’s pace. There have also been accusations that an arms deal with the US to purchase 12 A-9 Super Tucano aircraft for $500 million has been badly mismanaged by the current

In 2017, Transparency International rated Nigeria 148th in its annual ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’, down from 136th in 2016.

Not much to celebrate on the economic front

Nigeria returned to growth in 2017, following a 2016 recession driven by previous steep falls in international oil prices. A recovery in oil prices and production were the main factors in the return to (modest) growth. The economy is forecast to grow by around 2% in 2018. The government’s structural reform agenda appears to have led to some improvements in business conditions, but the economy’s long-term challenges – corruption, oil dependence, poor infrastructure, rapid population growth to name a few – remain sizeable.

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