Nigerian renewal

Sat 09 Feb 2019

As Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari seeks re-election, his mixed record on the economy and security fronts has made for a close contest. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil-producer, has barely recovered from a recession following the 2014 global slump in crude prices. The government claims to have curbed inflation, though it is in the double digits. Unemployment, which has climbed to over 20% since Mr. Buhari took office in 2015, could hurt his prospects among a predominantly young population. The adverse sentiment from the current grim global climate for foreign investment may have been compounded by the negative signals emanating from the billion-dollar fines slapped on the region’s telecom giant. Last year Lagos declined to join the African Continental Free Trade Area after steering negotiations among the 55 African Union states. The decision dealt a blow to the prospects of transforming Africa into an open and diverse economy, and strengthened the perception that Nigeria was not doing enough to move away from its dependence on oil wealth. In the prevailing atmosphere of rampant institutional corruption dating back decades, Mr. Buhari’s image as a morally incorruptible leader held sway with a disillusioned electorate during the 2015 polls. That reputation is still intact. But the former army general now seems politically vulnerable following electoral reverses in the provinces last year. More worrisome for him would be the defection of several members of the ruling All Progressives Congress party to the Opposition People’s Democratic Party. The most prominent of them is Mr. Bukhari’s main challenger in the presidential race, Atiku Abubakar, a two-term former vice president. The suspension of Nigeria’s chief justice on corruption charges last month has raised apprehensions over respect for the popular will in Nigeria. Besides many Western governments, Mr. Abubakar has cautioned the President against electoral interference.

On the security front, Mr. Buhari has had moderate success in pushing back Boko Haram, the Islamist terror organisation that gained notoriety some years ago for the shocking disappearance of 200 children. But the group continues to resort to acts of kidnapping and massacre in its stronghold in the northeast. Meanwhile, even as the violent conflict between farmers and herdsmen festers, concerns have been raised about the lack of equipment for the security forces. A new law passed last year lowering the age to run for public office, could make for a more inclusive democracy. But until the financial entry threshold to the political arena is lowered significantly, such laws will have little impact on the ground. Nevertheless, for a country blighted by bloody dictatorships for many years since the end of colonial rule, the coming polls should inspire confidence in the gradual strengthening of its nascent institutions.


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