Great Expectations

Silhouettes of People Holding Flag of Nigeria

On 29th May 2015 Nigeria’s President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, will assume office. Not since Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009 has so much expectation of change rested on one man’s shoulders. Many Nigerians believe that Buhari’s victory signals the dawn of a “New Nigeria” which will finally fulfil its potential and rid itself of insecurity, unemployment and corruption. This monumental task has been placed at the feet of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) government, who succeeded in breaking the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) 16 year domination of Nigerian politics in March 2015.

Nonetheless, Buhari’s APC did not reluctantly accept this mantle. The party and Buhari specifically stood on a platform of change and promised to bring an end to insecurity and wage a war on corruption. During his speech at Chatham House in February 2015, Buhari was highly critical of the PDP saying that it had allowed “waste and corruption” to bloom during their time in office; something which he vowed to change. In early May 2015, Buhari outlined his administration’s priorities. According to the president-elect, his top priority is insecurity, followed by unemployment and then corruption. He stated that “we have to get the issue of the economy right to make sure the jobs are available and we should try to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria”. Such statements are welcomed in Nigeria and many believe that Buhari will be able to fulfil his promises.

Nevertheless, it must be recognised that this is a monumental task. Although Nigeria’s armed forces have been successful in regaining much of the territory in the northeast of the country from Boko Haram, the group still remains a threat. This was indicated by an attack on Maiduguri on 13th May 2015. Moreover, Virginia Comolli – a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies – noted at the Royal Africa Society’s “How to Fix Nigeria” event on 12th May 2015, that Boko Haram are very “resilient and adaptable” and that the “root causes” of the insurgency must be addressed if they are to be defeated. Thus, in order to reduce definitively the threat posed by Boko Haram Buhari must address the underlying socio-economic conditions which foster support for the insurgency.

It appears that Buhari has taken this into account, seeing that youth unemployment is often cited as a major factor in increasing Boko Haram’s recruits. However, solving Nigeria’s unemployment crisis is no easier than defeating Boko Haram. In January 2015 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, McKinsey & Company estimated that Nigeria’s youth unemployment was as high as 50 percent. The prominent Nigerian businessmen, Aliko Dangote, reacted by stating that “our entire society is in danger of destruction” unless they pay attention to this section of the population. Buhari appears to share this view and in early May 2015 stated that “60 percent of Nigerians are youths, most of them, whether they went to school or not, are unemployed and that is dangerous”. In order to deal with the youth unemployment crisis, the APC pledged in their manifesto to create at least 1 million jobs every year and make Nigeria’s economy grow at an annual average of 10 percent

However, Nigeria’s economy and particularly the relationship between economic growth and employment have previously been restricted by corruption. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 Nigeria was ranked 136 out of 175, placing the country in the bottom 16 percent. This also meant that Nigeria was recorded as the 3rd most corrupt country in West Africa after Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was beset by three major corruption allegations in relation to the country’s oil industry during his term in office. In one case, the then central bank governor – Lamido Sanusi – alleged that $20bn in oil revenue had not been accounted for between January 2012 and July 2013. The state run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the claim was “unsubstantiated” and the government similarly denied the allegation. Furthermore, within the same month as Sanusi reported his allegation to a Senate committee he was suspended by the president for “financial recklessness and misconduct”. As noted previously, Buhari has made it clear that he aims to tackle corruption. In early May 2015 he said that “the problem of Nigeria is not ethnic or religious, it is corruption”. Nonetheless, this will not be easy as an attack on corruption will have an impact upon a wide range of powerful players who have a vested interest in the status quo. This was demonstrated by the removal of Sanusi shortly after he put forward his allegations. Furthermore, corruption has become ingrained in Nigeria, with petty corruption an everyday occurrence for most people. Such prevalence of corruption will therefore make it extremely hard to eradicate.

Thus, the task set by Buhari would be extremely hard at the best of times and sadly Nigeria is currently far from this. Underlying this ambitious project of change lies Nigeria’s faltering economy. The dramatic fall in oil prices in 2014 has left Nigeria’s oil dependent economy in dire straits (For more information read “A Tough Year Ahead for Africa’s Oil Exporters”). As the Nigerian government owe 70 percent of their revenue to oil, the country has been forced into borrowing heavily to cover expenditure. On 6th May 2015, Nigeria’s finance minister – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – said that the federal government has already used 473 billion naira of the projected borrowing allowance for 2015 of 882 billion naira to meet recurrent expenditures. In addition to this, the value of the naira has depreciated dramatically (20th May 2014 $1 – N163.1 to 20th May 2015 $1 – N199.1) and the IMF has projected that Nigeria’s average GDP growth in 2015 and 2016 will be 2.5 percent lower than previously predicted. This means Nigeria’s projected growth is half of that which the APC pledged to achieve in their manifesto. Furthermore, in reaction to this, the House of Representatives has proposed a reduction in capital expenditure and the removal of the fuel subsidy in the 2015 budget. This not only reduces Buhari’s ability to tackle unemployment but also increases the likelihood of social unrest.

Nonetheless, the belief in Buhari is so strong amongst some Nigerians that they still have complete confidence in his ability to fulfil his promises. This belief is primarily based on Buhari’s anti-corruption drive, through which many think he will be able to recoup funds previously stolen from the Nigerian state, offsetting the impact of the oil price fall. However, as noted earlier, Buhari’s anti-corruption drive will face strong opposition from powerful vested interests and tackling these is too large a task for one man. Unlike his previous stint as Nigeria’s head of state, Buhari’s powers are restrained and he will require the full support of his government in tackling corruption. Buhari’s administration’s first few months in power will be key to providing an indication of both their willingness and ability to achieve this. However, even if they are able to recoup funds through preventing the outflow of government revenue via corruption, it will only soften the damage caused by Nigeria’s dependence on oil.

The expectation created by the APC’s election campaign and placed on Buhari’s shoulders by the Nigerian people may ultimately mean he is destined to disappoint. The difficult tasks of tackling Nigeria’s insecurity, unemployment and corruption have been exacerbated by Nigeria’s economic situation, which has the potential to create social problems of its own. This is not say that Buhari will fail in all of his aims but one must ask if the expectation is too high against such a bleak reality.   People will only support leaders for so long based on their ideals and promises; after a while they will expect results, and if these are not forthcoming they will consider their leader a failure.

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