Muhammadu Buhari’s election triumph was one thing, but working to overcome the challenges in Nigeria is now quite another. Orji Sunday discusses the issues the new president must now face.
Being Nigeria’s president is a painful pleasure. After all, most leaderships, if not all are driven principally by the premise of flashy honours and thorny responsibility. So when Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president elect is sworn in on May 29, for a second four-year term, it will be a sober celebration driven by public expectation and personal promises made on the road to winning the polls.
Mr. Buhari was declared winner after earning 56% of the votes, a margin good enough to avoid runoff, against nearest opposition candidate and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, who had 41% of the votes across Nigeria’s 36 states.
But this is really not a good time to inherit leadership of Nigeria, with so many key sectors in need of an urgent revamp. The security situation is severe. The president, would like us to know he never forgets. “I always sleep with you in mind. (I think about) your security, economy and fight against corruption,” Buhari told Nigerians during a January campaign speech.
The action that must now follow the words starts with a security situation that has seen complex, long historical twists and daily tragedy. Rightly so, the issue dominated the campaign narratives on the run-up to the elections. For instance, Boko Haram militants continue to attack northeastern Nigeria, erasing military gains recorded in the fight back in 2015, and creating vast humanitarian crises. The insurgency, launched in 2009, has killed some 35,000 people and displaced some 2.5 million people across the Lake Chad region, 1.8 million of whom are inside Nigeria.
“The president won upon the improvement recorded in security. He won upon the insurgency. But he is not resolving the root causes of the problems which starts with youth unemployment”
During the 2019 elections, insurgency was the huge political capital upon which the president won votes. It was believed his experience as a retired senior military officer and Nigeria’s military ruler between 1983 and 1985, would be positively reflected in Nigeria’s fight to fend off various armed struggles against the state. His efforts in the past four years is seen as progress; but it still falls below the levels of safety the public craves.
“The president won upon the improvement recorded in security. He won upon the insurgency. But he is not resolving the root causes of the problems which starts with youth unemployment,” says Abdulrahim Abdullahi, a security journalist based in north eastern state of Borno, the hub of an insurgency that has driven some 7.7 million people, half of whom are children, to seriously need humanitarian aid in the most affected northeastern Nigerian states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
Away from Boko Haram, pro-Biafra group, Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, in Nigeria’s east, is continuing to overshadow unity efforts by calling for secession, in a carryover of the brutal civil war agitation of 1967 to 1970.
Abdullahi says some of the key issues facing the government are connected; from unemployment to insecurity, poor economy to growing crime. “The government needs to create jobs,” he says. “That is the key to resolving insurgency. The youths need jobs. Unemployment is the mother of insecurity.”
Human rights abuses have worsened in the past few years prompting human right march and protests in some parts of Nigeria. Photo: Orji Sunday
However, Nigeria’s business climate is in a tight spot, making it complex for the country’s young and increasingly educated population to get jobs or thrive on private enterprise. More than half of Nigeria’s population are young people under 35. Recently, NBS, reported that the unemployment rate hit 23.1 percent in the third quarter, up from 18.1 percent in the same period in 2017. The total number of unemployed Nigerians stood at 20.9 million, up from 17.6 million in the last quarter of 2017. This is in stark contrast to late 2014 when the rate was 6.4 percent.
In the past four years, the government initiated a number of projects to deflate unemployment. In reality, the interventions, though noble, are rarely sufficient. To feed an unemployed population running into millions with ‘empowerment’ schemes that offer a monthly stipend of 30,000 naira (around $85), over a period of four years targeted at about 500,000 young people vastly underestimates the extent of the issue.
“It is not clear how much the policy of the government has been impactful. Local companies are struggling to stay alive while hundreds of thousands of graduates join the labour force yearly, but with no clear policy from the government on how to absorb them”
Following close behind Nigeria’s job crisis is a wobbly economy. The president acknowledged the gap, and has promised to fix Africa’s largest economy with a GDP of $1.121 trillion. The government wants time, saying that patience would lead to prosperity. But excuses have expiration dates, especially to millions of Nigerians trapped in daily struggle to survive.
In 2016, Nigeria fell into its first recession in 25 years. Though it exited in 2017, fluctuations in oil prices, particularly for a country where crude oil accounts for 70 percent of government revenue, created economic instability, inflation and loss of jobs.
It is not clear how much the policy of the government has been impactful. Local companies are struggling to stay alive while hundreds of thousands of graduates join the labour force yearly, but with no clear policy from the government on how to absorb them. The impact of this has seen the stifling of the ambitions of a hard working middle class and escalating extreme poverty for the lower income class.
Last year, Nigeria became the country with the largest number of people mired in poverty, with about 86.9 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty compared to India’s 71.5 million.
“This is one victory that did not bring celebration. It shows people are not happy with the state of the nation. We have to deal with inflation. The economy is stagnant,” says Dr. Ezeibe Christian of the department of political science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Moreover, the country’s middle belt, largely dominated by smallholder farmers, is facing a rough patch. The violence between farming rural communities and nomadic herdsmen according to Amnesty International, has killed at least 3,641 people between January 2016 and October 2018.
The Nigeria economy recovered from recession in 2017 but other economic indicators are still largely negative. Photo: Orji Sunday
Meanwhile, the government wants to solve most of this issues by fighting corruption. It is an ideal that has been abused. The president, in whom Nigerians trusted to tackle corruption, has been selective, politically partisan and sometimes anarchical in the fight described as “the people” versus “the elites.”
The president savours the pleasure of being painted a saviour, but his efforts, sometimes, have earned scorn instead. In spite of his anti-corruption campaign, the latest ranking from Transparency International (TI) shows that Nigeria ranked 144 out of 180 countries and scored 27 on a scale of 100, an indication that Nigeria “remained unchanged” on the ranking since 2017.
“An effective war against corruption starts with improving the standard of living. Hunger and poverty makes people susceptible to corrupt practices driven by desire to survive. The people won’t die in hunger while you chase the elites,” says Dr. Ezeibe Christian.
“There are a lot of issues facing the government,” says Christian. “But hopes are high that this government would bring a more robust fight against corruption. And trace its failures with the mind to correct them.”
The president, in the crowded list of core concerns, also has the tough task of attending to Nigeria’s educational crisis. Constant college strikes, low pay and poor college infrastructure are key difficulties for the sector. Besides, The Ministry of Education has disclosed that 50% – over 13 million – of the cumulative 20 million out-of-of school children in the world are in Nigeria.
Children play in the Internally Displaced Persons camp in war ravaged northeastern state of Borno, Nigeria. Photo: Orji Sunday
Human rights abuses have worsened in the past few years. That, according to Christian, is because the government has given the impression that the military is a core component of our democracy. Military violations of human rights are often excused through state security. The media faces repression, attacks on journalists are common, and violation of court orders, starting from the presidency, is like a virus.
In fixing all these issues, the government has to get to grips with power supply. Their record is not positive. Economic analysts link poor power supply to high running costs as well as undermining efficiency of factories, firms and small and medium businesses, predominantly in the private sector, leading to business closures.
“Sadly, the president has to further convince regions that feel marginalised by his government that he is the man to fix their woes. He did win, in a vote tagged violent and fraudulent, but legitimacy is fragmented”
Presently, Nigeria generates around 4,000 megawatts (MW) of electric power daily, though there is a potential to generate up to 12,522 megawatts from existing plants. Some 20 million households are without electricity, compared to 2.2 million households in South Africa, which generates more than 47,000 megawatts.
The government has committed itself to the task ahead, saying in a recent speech that “the new administration will intensify its efforts in security, restructuring the economy and fighting corruption. We (the government) have laid down the foundation and we are committed to seeing matters to the end.”
Sadly, the president has to further convince regions that feel marginalised by his government that he is the man to fix their woes. He did win, in a vote tagged violent and fraudulent, but legitimacy is fragmented. The unity problem did not start with this government, but he has to lead the fixing of it in line with his commitments.
“The people of some regions feel isolated. The president has to conquer the bias he seems to have for the north where he comes from which has reflected in his one-sided appointments into top government positions” says Nigeria based Justice Nwafor, a public affairs analyst. `
The new government, faced with the litany of duties has shown a few times that flash of promise. But to make these prospects practical, direction, responsibility and purpose need to be combined. Yet, this is not a government that takes responsibility. Its flaws are blamed on the past and the people. And unless it chooses a strong direction instead of devolving responsibility, Nigeria’s fate might hang in the balance for another four years.
Orji Sunday is a Nigeria based freelance writer that contributes to Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Mongabay, TRT World, Ozy and others. He covers conflict, politics, environment, health and development in Nigeria & West Africa.Follow @orjisunday32