Nigeria: Buhari at the one-year mark

29 May marks the first anniversary of Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration as President of Nigeria. Analysts have been busy assessing his performance so far.

Alarmingly, the Financial Times has reported that “Nigerians are impatient for the gains they voted for and have little appetite for further pain […] confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari, elected a year ago on a wave of hope, is evaporating.”

Buhari’s election platform

Buhari and the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is a fractious coalition of interests, inherited a country with multiple profound challenges. During the campaign, Buhari and the 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 achievements to their name on the first two counts, most observers feel that they have barely got off first base on the last.

Progress on security and corruption…

Boko Haram has been pushed out of most of the territory which it controlled in Northeast Nigeria and is seen by some as “on the back foot”. Their attacks, while still causing significant numbers of casualties, reflect guerrilla tactics, rather than the ‘semi-conventional’ ones witnessed during 2012-14. Buhari has revamped the military high command and begun a programme of military retraining and expansion. Foreign countries, including the UK, have scaled up their assistance to the Nigerian military. Cooperation between Nigeria and regional neighbours Niger, Chad and Cameroon against Boko Haram has improved.

One of the Chibok schoolgirls has been freed recently, raising hopes that the remaining 218, widely believed to be being held in the remote Sambisa Forest, may soon be too.


Source: Voice of America

On anti-corruption, a wave of arrests have been made against former office-holders from the presidency of Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan (for example, former National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki) and several major investigations launched.

… but criticisms too

However, critics claim that there have also been blots on the government’s copybook on the security and anti-corruption fronts. They argue that some the steps taken on anti-corruption have been politically-motivated, rather than ‘without fear or favour’.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian security forces remain prone to committing human rights abuses but continue to enjoy impunity. There was a furore when in in December 2015, the Nigerian security forces clashed in Zaria with supporters of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, a Shi’a group with close links to Iran, resulting in around 300 deaths according to Human Rights Watch, which called the killings “unjustified”. Investigations are still under way.

A more fundamental criticism is that Buhari and the APC have not yet got to grips with the interlocking ‘root causes’ of violence – poverty, inequality, marginalisation and corruption – in Nigeria, whether in the North or elsewhere. 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 on the up again; in the ‘Middle Belt’, where inter-communal violence rumbles on; and in the Southeast, where there is a revival of Igbo agitation for a separate Biafran state.

Deepening economic woes

The new government acknowledges that a crucial element in tackling the root causes of violence is the promotion of more ‘inclusive’ economic growth. But its efforts on this count have so far been largely frustrated. Some would argue that the government has not yet shown that it is equal to the challenges.

The country is in full-blown fiscal crisis. 2016 is set to see Nigeria’s lowest GDP growth since the country returned to democracy in 1999.

nigeria gdp

Plummeting global oil prices have meant that it has been difficult for economic policy to go beyond crisis management over the last year.

brent crude

At the same time, dwindling foreign exchange reserves led to acute fuel shortages, compounded for ordinary Nigerians by hefty price rises at the pump. . Although oil prices have recently begun to rise again, there seems little immediate prospect of economic rescue from that quarter. There are discussions with the World Bank about a loan and Buhari has sought to mobilise support from China.

A lot of this was beyond the new government’s control. But the fact that it has taken most of the last year for it to articulate a detailed economic agenda has been much criticised. Indeed, Buhari only announced the composition of his cabinet in November 2015. Supporters of Buhari respond that taking time to find ministers who are clean and competent will ultimately prove time well spent.

A credible economic strategy?

Amid controversy over its transparency and accuracy, a much delayed budget for 2016 was finalised in late-April. It is intended to stimulate growth through increased capital expenditure and promote diversification through support to agriculture and the mining industry. Long-delayed reform of the oil and gas industry is also promised. The budget also proposes greater investment in the country’s ‘human development’. For example, it includes a conditional cash transfer scheme aimed at one million of the poorest Nigerians.

Reactions to the budget have varied. Some are asking where the money is coming from to fund such an expansionary approach; others, by contrast, view it as too cautious, asserting that the cash transfer scheme is a drop in the ocean in a country where 80 million people live in extreme poverty. Critics struggle to see anything dramatically new in the economic proscriptions of Buhari’s government, noting that much of this has been seen in the programmes of past dispensations. Buhari’s resistance to devaluing the Nigerian currency (described by one source as “Naira nationalism”) has also been slated as misguided, although there are growing indications that the government is about to change tack on this.

Still plenty of donor goodwill – but how long will Nigerians wait?

One year on, the deep economic downturn means that the mountain that the Buhari administration has to climb is steeper than ever. There is still plenty of donor goodwill to draw upon – including from the UK, which despite deep concerns over rampant corruption, recently pledged to give Nigeria £40 million over the next four years to help in the fight against Boko Haram and to step up training support to its army. But it is less clear how long reserves of domestic goodwill will last.

Further reading

Library briefing, Nigeria 2015: analysis of election issues and future prospects (January 2015)

Africa Confidential, “Anniversary ambushed”, Africa Confidential, 26 May 2016

See also the written and oral evidence for the International Development Committee’s ongoing inquiry on DFID’s programme on Nigeria

Picture credit: “Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari addressing to MEPs“, by European Parliament, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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