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Nigerians have lost confidence in Buhari and he can’t reverse that loss – UK Parliament paper

A briefing paper prepared for the UK’s House of Commons has highlighted the failures of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, commenting on the state of the country’s security, economy and the president’s health.

A summary is reproduced below.

This briefing reviews the current political and economic situation in Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari.

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Buhari is approaching the second anniversary of his inauguration as President of Nigeria in May 2015. At the time of his first anniversary in power, commentators were writing 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.”

20 months into his time in office, has President Buhari been able to reverse this loss of confidence? The short answer is ‘no’. His position is not yet beyond repair – but matters are not being helped by mounting uncertainty about the state of the president’s health.

How ill is the president?

Nigeria’s political culture is rumour-ridden at the best of times. Buhari’s recent announcement that he was going on a two-week holiday to the UK led to renewed claims that he was seriously ill and might have to step down early – or was even dead. A few days ago, it was announced that the president was extending his current stay in the UK for medical treatment. Nigerians are understandably jumpy – not least because a previous president, Umaru Yar’Adua, died in office as recently as 2010. Amidst worrying signs of government drift, the odds on Buhari standing for a second term seem rapidly to be lengthening.

Buhari welcomes guests Bisi Akande and Bola Tinubu in London

Security and corruption: progress and problems

There has been some progress on security and corruption. Boko Haram has been pushed out of most of the territory which it controlled in Northeast Nigeria since President Buhari took office and is seen by some as “on the back foot”. The last six months or so have seen them lose most, if not all, the territory they held in the Sambisa Forest in Borno State, which had been an important rear-base for them. Some of the Chibok girls have been freed.

In May 2016, not long after the former Prime Minister David Cameron had described the country as “fantastically corrupt”, the British Government said that it was giving Nigeria £40 million over the next four years to help in the fight against Boko Haram and was planning to train almost 1,000 Nigerian military personnel for deployment in counter-insurgency operations.

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, whose trial has begun, and former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, yet to stand trial) and several major investigations launched.

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’. As is often the case in Nigeria, investigations are proceeding at a snail’s pace.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian security forces remain prone to committing human rights abuses but continue to enjoy impunity. A more fundamental criticism is that Buhari has 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, and appears disinterested (with the possible exception of the oil-rich Niger Delta) in seeking negotiated settlements. There have also been criticisms of the performance of the authorities in response to the humanitarian crisis in Northeastern Nigeria.

Cracks in the ruling coalition

The biggest new challenge to emerge during the second half of 2016 (if we leave aside steadily mounting concerns about Buhari’s health) were cracks in the fractious coalition of interests that makes up the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The main division to emerge (it was never far from the surface) is that between Buhari’s faction and those loyal to former Lagos State Governor and APC ‘Kingmaker’ Bola Tinubu, who is reportedly in cahoots with former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. According to Africa Confidential, this faction is now actively contemplating setting up a separate party, coined the ‘Mega Party’. This party would bring together APC-ers disillusioned with Buhari and sections of the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, which is also faction-ridden.

The economy in dire straits

As a large producer and exporter of oil, Nigeria’s economy has been badly hit by the sharp fall in the price of oil in 2014. Government revenues have fallen, resulting in cuts to government expenditure, while the value of total exports have fallen significantly given that oil and gas make up around 90% of Nigeria’s exports.

In addition, the government was forced to abandon its currency peg which fixed the naira to the dollar despite spending billions of dollars from its foreign exchange reserves to try and prop it up. The naira fell from about N197 per $1 to N280 in June 2016, and is currently around N300 according to the official exchange rate. However, it appears that the currency was not allowed to fully float, meaning that government intervention is still occurring. During 2016 there was a serious foreign exchange shortage and consumer price inflation rose rapidly.

All of these factors mean that full-year growth in 2016 is therefore likely to be negative for the first time since 1991. The IMF estimates GDP contracted by 1.5% in 2016, compared with growth of 2.7% in 2015. It does, however, forecast growth of 0.8% in 2017 and 2.3% in 2018. The outlook is supported by the oil price being higher than a year ago, boosted in part by a deal by OPEC members to restrict oil supply.

The longer-term challenges facing Nigeria’s economy remain in place. Despite efforts by the Buhari administration to clamp down on corruption, it still remains a big problem. In addition, broader conditions for conducting business remain poor. The poor quality of infrastructure, low education levels, security worries, and high poverty levels are additional barriers to faster growth in the long-term.

Briefing papers are drafted by the House of Commons Library research service, which provides MPs and their staff with the impartial briefing and evidence base they need to do their work in scrutinising Government, proposing legislation, and supporting constituents.


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