Ever since it gained independence, Nigeria has struggled to develop its own culture of democratic governance. The country’s First Republic terminated in January 15, 1966, when a group of soldiers led the first coup d’état of many that would follow. Since that moment, elections were ruled by irregularities, fraud and violence, leading to 50 years of post-colonial history spent under several military dictatorships. A turning point was only reached in 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari, of the All Progressive Congress (APC), won against incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who was seeking re-election after having already ruled the country for sixteen years. This became the first transition of power from one part to the other which was not marked by extreme violence.
Today, being Africa’s most populous nation, and growing, Nigeria is also becoming poorer. Almost a quarter of its labour force is unemployed, it is home to one of the highest rates of out-of-school children in the world, and it is ruled by a government with some of the lowest health and education spending per capita. The country also faces a range of problems including structural weakness such as corruption, social and economic inequalities, security threats, economic slowdown, ethnic and religious divisions, and a society and political behaviours which are usually shaped by patronage and clientele networks.
2019 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
General elections were scheduled to take place on February 16, 2019, to elect the president, vice president, and members of the National Assembly. Much to the surprise of the citizens who had prepared to vote, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the elections, just hours before polls were due to open, until Saturday, February 23, 2019.
There were 73 candidates registered, but real competition took place between the two main political giants who have been around for decades in Nigeria and who represented the two most well-established political parties, the APC and the PDP.
On the one hand, 72-year-old Atiku Abubakar, a Fulani Muslim from Adamawa, a state in the North-East, who has been in the political scene for over 25 years. A former vice-president and businessman, during his campaign, he pledged to loosen the state’s grip on the economy, privatise certain companies, such as the Nigeria National Petroleum Corp, end the Nair’s peg to the dollar, and advocated pro-growth fiscal policies. However, Atiku is also commonly associated with corruption cases, and believed to have earned his money through questionable activities and cronyism.
On the other hand, incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, 76 – also a Fulani Muslim from the North – is a former general who ran a military government in the 1980’s and now describes himself as a “converted democrat”. Buhari based his 2015 campaign on defeating Boko Haram (Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād), battling corruption, dealing with a slowing economy, promising a clean break from the past, and achieving the first peaceful transfer of power in the country.
On the 27th of February, four days after the elections took place, the INEC officially declared incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari the winner with the lowest turnout in history 35.6%, compared to the 44% in 2015.
While the elections ran more smoothly than in past occasions, it also became evident that some of the old issues persist today. For instance, the level of violence is highly prevalent. At least 39 people died on the election day, but the total number ascends to approximately 600 people if we look at the electoral process from the start to the end of the campaign. The heavy militarisation of the electoral process that, according to Buhari, was meant to ensure a totally smooth election, played a significant role in those disruptions. Furthermore, the process was marred by organizational breakdowns such as delays in the delivery of voting materials and, while they have not disputed the results, international observers emphasized that the conduct of the election was deeply flawed.
THE ROAD AHEAD FOR NIGERIA
Seeing the two main contesters, it is safe to say that, no matter the result, this year’s elections were never a promise of an open door to a new era. During this term, President Buhari has pledged to focus on intensifying security, restructuring the economy and fighting corruption; issues for which he campaigned in 2015, and up to this point has failed to successfully resolve.
Corruption and Economy
Corruption is one of Nigera’s deeply rooted issues which has plagued the country since independence, with massive scandals and an underlying political system designed to enrich the elites with direct access to state oil wealth.
Buhari is widely seen as a clean politician, elected in 2015, in part, for his promise to clean up corruption and restore professionalism in the public services. While the general perception is that he made some progress during his tenure investigating former government officials, there has been criticism in that his campaign has been selective and that he has only targeted his political opponents. This is backed by the Transparency International which announced that, in 2018, Nigeria made the worst regression in the Corruption Perception Index, moving 12 steps back from 136 under the PDP to 144 under the APC.
In terms of Nigeria’s economy, Buhari’s re-election represents a continuation of the statu quo, dissipating the changes that Abubakar’s market-oriented reform agenda, including the management of the exchange rate regime and the privatization of an important part of the economic sector, would have brought to the country if elected, and instead proposing that the government retains a strong grip on the economy.
The country is among the two largest economies in the continent but it is smaller on a per capita basis than in 2014. While Nigeria’s senate has recently approved Buhari promise to raise the monthly minimum wage by 67% during his second term, unemployment has surged to a record 23% from 6.4% in 2014, the country has become home to 87 million people living in extreme poverty, and the stock market has been the world’s worst performer since that same year. Several economists have argued that Buhari’s policies have exacerbated the recession that followed the oil price crash of 2015, as he didn’t prioritize the economy and took too long to establish a change in the economic strategy.
The main setback for Nigeria’s economic development is precisely that, as a petroleum-rich state, it has failed to diversify and, consequently, still depends heavily on oil for 70% of government revenues. At the same time, while it is the largest oil producer in Africa, corruption and failure to invest have contributed to hamper development in the country and to deepen the recession in 2016-2017.
Buhari emphasized his commitment to reduce unemployment and generate growth by improving infrastructure, so to increase efficiency and competitiveness of all businesses and enhance the ability of citizens to live in peace – such as roads, trains, basic health care, affordable housing or police protection. However, in order to accomplish his promise to end the economy’s addiction to oil, boost state finances and accelerate energy reforms, Buhari’s administration will have to increase borrowing in local and international markets, further worsening its debt.
Conflict and security
Since its return to democracy in 1999, Nigeria has been dealing with several threats to security, such as insurgencies and religious, occupational and ethnic motivations for conflict, among others. This term, Buhari will be faced with four main challenges which will require some action from his part.
In first place, Buhari will have to secure lasting peace in the crude-rich Niger River delta and dismantle the so called “rogue economy” of the area, which is a hostile political terrain for him. The Delta in the south of the country has been plagued with unrest and disruption with a low-level insurgency and an epidemic of kidnappings for ransom across this region that threatens the oil production.
The Delta, among other threats, is faced with ethnic minorities and militant groups, such as the Niger Delta Avengers, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force or the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. These groups sabotage oil production under the argument that the region’s oil and environmental wealth are strictly benefiting the corrupt Nigerian government and foreign oil companies, while their fishing and farming livelihood suffer the consequences of the environmental damage.
This is of crucial importance for Buhari, since any disruption in the Delta will impact his capacity to carry out his economic projects, leading to a cut in spending and the inability to service his debts. This has already been happening since the militant attacks in 2016 which slashed oil exports by half and, combined with lower oil prices, pushed the economy into its first contraction in 25 years and a subsequent slow recovery afterwards that persists today.
In second place, the Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) insurgencies in the north-eastern region in Nigeria are still important threats to peace and stability in the country.
Burahi has been unable to carry out his promise to end the Boko Haram and the Islamic State franchise insurgencies and, although the insurgencies’ territorial control is now limited to some small villages in the countryside, a shift in their tactics has helped both groups remain a threat to millions. Thus, they have not stopped challenging the government’s authority, orchestrating coordinated and deadly attacks, killing security personnel, displacing millions of people, destroying schools and public health systems, and threatening civilians across the nort-eastern states, along with collecting taxes and providing services in some areas their control.
The government must understand that insurgencies will not be stopped through military action alone, but that – among other measures – providing opportunities for young people, especially in rural areas, is also of crucial importance.
Thirdly, the ongoing conflict between herders and farmers in the Middle Belt of the country has claimed the lives of around 4.000 people in that area, more than those taken by Boko Haram in the same period, and about 300,000 people have been forced from their homes due to the violence. While the government has deployed the military to contain the clashes between the two communities, the administration has done little to contain the violence this past term.
Nigeria’s federal government has proposed setting aside land for herders, and a National Livestock Transformation Plan (2018-2027), yet the country is also grappling with widespread unemployment and an ever-growing population, which is pushing more people into farming, adding to the tensions. Buhari’s administration has already stated that the plan is to assist farmers directly and promote agriculture in every way possible in order to enhance food security and be agriculturally self-reliant, but the effects are yet to be perceived and further action should be taken.
Finally, another issue of crucial importance the Buhari administration will face this term is the regression in human rights.
It is widely known that Buhari’s government has ignored court orders, intimidated political opponents, arrested journalists and activists, and consented to the killings of unarmed civilians on multiple occasions. Furthermore, the military and the police have also been accused of human rights abuses, such as arbitrary killings, torture, sexual exploitation and abuse, and the government has done little to hold them accountable.
Moreover, civil rights are still strongly undermined for religious and ethnic reasons, as well as the persistent discrimination against women and LGBTIQ+ people.
Looking at women’s rights specifically, their concerns are regarded as non-consequential to party and electoral politics and thus not included in the public discourse any further than the traditional “take care of our women” issued by politicians.
For his part, while Buhari has promised to give women and youth more appointments so they can also contribute to the development of the nation – since they have helped him in his re-election –, there is little hope that there will be a significant change in direction by the government. After all, Buhari himself publicly told his wife she belonged in kitchen after she criticized his government in a BBC interview.
REGIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL IMPACT
Nigeria, being the regional economic powerhouse, has the potential to drag down the rest of West Africa by undercutting the economy of the region, spreading extremism, disrupting the oil production and increasing the displacement of people into neighbouring countries. As abovementioned, the crude oil sector plays a big part in achieving stability. Therefore, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has called for more integration among countries within the West African sub-region to provide lasting solutions to the region’s numerous energy challenges.
In addition, Nigeria’s waters are considered the most dangerous in the world due to maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea, as well as a hub for narcotics trafficking and criminal organizations related to the trade. Therefore, given its strategic position along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria has an important role with the Economic Community of Central Africa States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the rest of global partners, to act and promote security approaches to avoid violent transnational crimes. This is with the goal of protecting its strategic economic area and maritime trade in the short term, and the stability of the coastal states in the long term.
Any disruption in Nigeria’s oil sector will also have a significant impact on the wider oil markets and price volatility. Nigeria is considered one of the “fragile” members of the OPEC, impacting the global members’ oil production. In addition, Nigeria’s top export destinations are India, the U.S., Spain, France and the Netherlands. The main export being crude oil, which implies an important dependence from those countries on Nigeria.
For its part, China’s influence in the country keeps on growing and has recently begun competing with the U.S. for access to the country’s energy resources, as it has offered Nigeria profitable loans for infrastructure projects in exchange for oil exploitation rights.
An imminent threat to this sector, however, is Saudi Arabia’s $100 billion investment project in India, in areas such as energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing, as major oil producers are targeting Asia as a stable outlet for their oil. India overtook the U.S. as Nigeria’s largest importer of oil in 2014 so, by making India a hub for oil supply, its demand for Nigeria’s oil will most likely decline. Thus, with this new project, Saudi Arabia will further worsen Nigeria’s oil situation and increase its need for economic diversification.
While the 2019 presidential election was deeply flawed and far from perfect, it showed that democracy is gradually being ingrained in Nigeria.
Nigeria has the potential to be Africa’s economic motor, and Buhari has enough power in his hands to contribute to building a more prosperous future for the country and its people. Therefore, his priority should focus on designing a more transparent government and a coherent agenda that reforms institutions to remove arbitrage and ideologues. Durable solutions need to be implemented, especially when it comes to security and to reduce conflict and humanitarian needs. There needs to be a reform to increase crisis prevention, promote development and stabilization policies, and to move away from oil to diversify the economy.
After sixteen years of PDP ruling, the APC promised a new era in 2015. What they delivered this past legislation, however, is a continuation of their predecessors’ actions and approach. This seems to be the case again as, with the re-election of Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria is presented with the same ticking time bombs and the same promises he made in his first term, which he did not manage to keep – reducing conflict and improving security, removing corruption and improving the economic situation for the country and its people.
Cristina Castellana Tenedor, Associate Analyst for Sub-Saharan Africa
Cover photo: President Muhammadu Buhari, waving the All Progressives Congress (APC) symbol – the broom, at his presidential campaign rally in Kano, 31/01/2019 (Source: The Guardian Nigeria).