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Will Buhari complete his project?

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President Muhammadu Buhari

In 2019, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect a president.

Will they stick with President Muhammadu Buhari or decide that he has been ineffectual, failed and not improved their lives and choose somebody else?

It is hard to say now, particularly as the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has yet to choose its candidate.

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The election of Buhari has been a major new development in the country in a number of ways.

It was the first change in leadership from one party to another, as distinct from a military coup or shift from one leader to another within the same party.

Buhari had ruled as a military leader without amassing wealth and has continued in that fashion since he took office.

He has implemented measures that have significantly degraded the Boko Haram insurgency, tried to rein in rampant corruption and allocated resources to infrastructure projects and made attempts to diversify the economy.

It has not however been smooth sailing going against entrenched interests, notably, many legislators whose major focus is staying in power, with very high salaries and expense accounts and not much interest in good governance and service delivery.

In many ways reality soon set in, thwarting Buhari’s reform agenda.

His project, which aims to realise the country’s enormous potential has been slow to get off the ground and unless he can significantly revamp his narrative, political and economic strategies and pace, he is unlikely to get an extension to complete his project and alter the trajectory of the country’s development despite his laudable goals and objectives.

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In going to the public for a second term, Buhari would need to highlight his track record, what he has achieved, how Nigerians are better off compared to when he took office, why he needs more time for his project and how he can do a better job if given a second chance.

The key metrics would depend on what voters consider to be the most important issues.

In the Nigerian context with limited and unreliable polls we need to be cautious.

One can assume though that certain issues which were constantly in the media and which Buhari focussed on when he last went to the polls are important.

These are public safety, the economy, corruption and the infrastructure, notably, power supply.

In his campaign, while he can point to challenges outside his control, including the machinations of his opponents and other branches of government that made it difficult or impossible for him to implement his agenda, the public is unlikely to buy into a narrative that assigns failure to other parties, because it assumes that any leader will face such hurdles and the mark of good leadership is how s/he responds to such challenges and comes on top.

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Towards the end of the previous administration the Boko Haram insurgency was quite severe in a number of ways.

It was very active in the north-east, there had been a couple of high profile kidnappings of civilians, notably the Chibok girls and it was spreading to other parts of Nigeria.

The economy had been in the doldrums largely because the Jonathan regime did not appear to have a coherent economic policy but also because of the depressed oil price, Nigeria’s lifeline.

Corruption was as usual rampant but the thing that brought it into focus was the attitude of the administration which did not see corruption, as Jonathan noted, as a problem.

In the run up to the election there were rumblings of a run on public funds by politicians to buy the support of the electorate.

Voters complained about the country’s crumbling infrastructure and in particular, the very limited and unreliable electricity.

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The Jonathan administration had privatised electricity in a crony set up with no due diligence being conducted on the new owners to validate their capacity and expertise to provide the services and even more important, to significantly improve the supply and reliability of this crucial service.

Other infrastructure and government services were also under severe strain as a result of lack of investment, mismanagement and corruption although the Jonathan administration could not obviously be totally blamed for a situation that had also been caused by many other previous s administrations.

Voters as was their prerogative, decided that they needed a new leader to run the show.

While the Boko Haram insurgency is still rumbling on and as the BBC’s Tony Oladipo noted, continues “to threaten the stability of Nigeria’s north-east and its wider Lake Chad Basin area,” there has been a very significant improvement because of measures taken by the administration.

These include changing the military command, moving the command centre to the region most affected by the insurgency, providing more resources and ensuring that those resources were delivered to the fighting force.

In 2015, in Buhari’s first year when his policies were being devised and implemented, there were 270 attacks and 6006 deaths.

In 2016 the 80 attacks recorded were only 29% of the 2015 level and deaths at 937 were 15% of the previous year, a huge improvement.

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While attacks and deaths in 2017 at 109 and 937 deaths respectively are up on the 2016 figures, they are still a huge improvement on what Buhari inherited. Boko Haram’s attacks are now primarily limited to Borno State.

Rogers is principal Consultant at Media and Event management, Oxford (MEMO).

On the economy the administration has made attempts, albeit in a very modest way, to stimulate non-oil sectors in its long term goal of reducing the country’s dependency on crude oil exports and reliance on imports.

His budgets have made significant allocations for agriculture, roads and power, including renewable power generation.

He has liberalised foreign exchange and thereby effectively removed subsidies to importers who had access to foreign currencies at preferential exchange rates, a perverse policy that was a disincentive for Nigeria’s manufacturers and farmers.

He has taken measures to minimise corruption as noted in my previous paper.

The administration’s policies have resulted in a significant improvement in the ease of doing business in Nigeria with the country moving from 170th in 2015 to 145th according to the World Banking ranking. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has seen a modest but steady growth.

It should be noted though at the end of the day Nigerian voters are going to judge Buhari according to their perceptions of how he has affected their lives.

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The tepid economic growth which has, in the last five quarters ranged from .72 to 2.11% is significantly less than the population growth rate of 2.6 per cent.

Despite major efforts the fight against corruption is still work in progress and in its latest report Transparency International ranked the country at 148/183 with a score of 27/100 in its corruption perception index.

Electricity output has continued to be a problem. Nigeria’s electricity power capacity at 7,000 megawatts (MGW) is only a fraction of South Africa’s capacity of 40,000 MGWs even though that country has less than a third of Nigeria’s population.

Indeed, the country’s actual output is only a fraction of its installed capacity, ranging from 2,000 – 4,452 MGW as reported in an analysis of recent production by Energy Mix.

Buhari has therefore not been able to make a major breakthrough in this crucial sector, although as noted above he has been handicapped by the crony privatisation of his predecessor; he has kept within the law and refrained from revoking the franchises awarded by Jonathan.

His effort at diversifying into solar energy has been stymied by payment related guarantees.

To be continued tomorrow.

Rogers is principal Consultant at Media and Event management, Oxford (MEMO).


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