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ANALYSIS - Nigeria's leader facing multiple challenges

ANALYSIS - Nigeria's leader facing multiple challenges
President Muhammadu Buhari has earned praise for fighting Boko Haram insurgents but faces economic problems

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – It is 365 days since Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari took office as the country's sixth democratically elected leader since 1960.

Buhari came to power with towering goodwill and expectation from Nigerians who had chosen him to replace of Goodluck Jonathan.

It was the first time an incumbent was defeated in a Nigerian presidential election.

Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) – an amalgam of varied political interests united by the need to unseat the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – had run a successful campaign filled with lofty promises.

The party pledged to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast as well as continue to keep the peace in the oil-rich delta region. It would also combat official corruption and revive the economy which it said had been mismanaged by the Jonathan administration.

It also promised to generate around 20,000 megawatts of electricity over four years to end decades of episodic power supply.

As an appendage to these, the APC also promised to pay unemployment benefits to new graduates; give loans to small-scale businesses; pay a $25 monthly sum to the country's most vulnerable or extremely poor; and feed children to shore up school attendance.

There was talk of Buhari, among other things, driving up the value of the local naira currency against the dollar and bringing down the pump price of gas – then selling at 44 cent per liter.

One year on, things clearly have not gone as planned and the electorate is grumbling.

Inflation has risen to over 13.7 percent, according to the country’s bureau of statistics. In a report on May 20, the bureau added that the country had failed to generate the minimum 1.5 million jobs required to keep the unemployment rate at 10.4 percent.

At the moment, unemployment stands at 12.1 percent, while youth unemployment has hit 42.24 percent – a cause for serious concern.

The country's gross domestic product slowed by 0.36 percent compared to the previous year, according to the statistics bureau, underscoring the precarious state of the economy.

Some have blamed this on the long delay in passing the budget, of which implementation began only in the second week of May.

Even then, Buhari has increased the price of gas to 74 cents, up from 44 cents as Jonathan had left it.

The naira has continued on a steady decline as Nigeria faces a liquidity crisis in the face of falling oil prices, now around $50 per barrel against over $100 for much of Jonathan’s years.

Although the naira is officially pegged at 197 to a dollar as of the third week of May, its real value is in the parallel market where it goes for around 320 or more to the dollar.

At least 27 of the country's 36 states cannot pay salaries, even as the cost of commodities continues to rise.

To worsen things, militancy has returned to the delta region. Led by the so-called Niger Delta Avengers, such activities – coupled with attacks by other groups – have brought down oil production from 2.2 million barrels per day to around 1.4 million.

This will affect Nigeria’s six trillion naira budget by at least 20 percent unless things change fast, warned private analysis outfit SBM Intelligence.

Electricity generation rose to 5,000 megawatts in January, the highest in the country's history, but it is back to barely 2,000 megawatts now, owing to resumed hostilities in the delta.

Regardless, Buhari appears to enjoy steady goodwill. In protest against the hike in fuel price, a recent strike called by the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) and its civil society allies flopped in most parts of the country.

The Buhari administration said the decision was a “painful but necessary one” because the country could no longer afford the opaque subsidy payment to fuel importers.

In all of these, most analysts insist it may be too early to call Buhari a failure, citing his successes in crushing the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast and a renewed anti-corruption fight – even though they admit that the economy remains his greatest Achilles' heel.

Ayo Sogunro, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, tells Anadolu Agency: "The administration has done fairly well in routing the Boko Haram menace.

“For the first time in years, the northeast seems relatively safe. There has been a tardy response, however, to the killings in the Middle Belt. Militancy is also resurfacing in the South-South.

"Public goodwill for the administration is still high but, with the increase in fuel prices, it is noticeably depreciating.

“I think if the administration quickly pulls its weight in the areas of economic development and political reform, its goodwill can still be maintained in the coming year."

Economist Tunji Andrews agrees. "On the Boko Haram front, the president hasn't done too badly and should be commended," Andrews tells Anadolu Agency. “However, he has been really poor on the economic front," he adds, saying Buhari lacks policy direction.

Sogunro says Buhari needs to up his game in the anti-corruption war and encourage transparency too, pointing at prosecutors defying court orders and the administration being slow to open its books.

The lawyer prefers a focus on reforming state structures to discourage corruption, rather than targeting individuals.

Buhari has targeted very prominent officials in his corruption probe, including incumbent Senate president, Bukola Saraki, who is facing charges of filing a false assets declaration. If convicted, he would be removed from his post and banned for 10 years from holding public office.

Several officials of the Jonathan administration are also being prosecuted for corruption. They include former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki and former chief of the country’s defense staff Alex Badeh, among other army chiefs who are facing charges of diverting defense funds.

At least $3-billion-worth of looted funds are said to have been recovered from public officials in the past year alone.

Idayat Hassan, coordinator of Buharimetre, a civic movement which has tracked the campaign promises of the president, says:

"One year in office, the government has performed just averagely. On the security front, they have been able to contain the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the northeast.

"However, the country is currently battling other forms of security challenges. These include Biafra separationists, Niger delta militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery, farmer/pastoralist conflicts, which are seriously impacting the development of the country," she adds.

She agrees with Sogunro that the anti-corruption fight needs to be institutionalized "beyond the personal integrity of the president".

source: News Feed
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