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Nigeria: How does Buhari’s track record really measure up in this election?

NIGERIA ELECTION SPECIAL

Nigeria: How does Buhari’s track record really measure up in this election?

While Muhammadu Buhari is a seasoned political leader, he was head of state of Nigeria from 1983 – 85 during the military interregnum, Atiku Abubakar is an unknown quantity in terms of national leadership. But how does Buhari’s track record really measure up? By Peter Eze

Buhari’s current term as President has been marked by his absence from office. It is estimated that for almost 30% of this term, he was out of the country on ‘routine medical grounds’. While exactly what is wrong with him has been kept a closely guarded secret, there is no doubt that he has serious health issues. Will he be able to cope with the rigors of office if re-elected? In fact, the question many are asking is if he will actually survive his full term. This can be a factor in the way voters decide.

The subject of his absence reached ludicrous levels when he was asked by a Nigerian while on a trip to Poland if he had been replaced by a ‘clone’. Buhari angrily retorted: “it is the real me, I assure you!” but the point had been made.

In a move that seemed to have backfired, the First Lady, Aisha Buhari blamed the slow pace of change in the country on the alleged influence of some henchmen with self-serving agenda.

She is reported to have said that there were two powerful men responsible for the lack of progress in the Buhari administration. She did not name names but the impression left behind was that Buhari himself was not totally in charge.

Worse, there have been a number of defections from the Buhari camp. These include the academic Ango Abdullahhi (an influential opinion leader in the Nigerian northern districts where Buhari comes from), retired General Yakubu Danjuma who used to be the Chief of Army Staff and Buba Galadima who some consider the backbone of Buhari’s pre-2015 Presidential campaigns.

In addition, a number of governors who were elected on the APC platform also left lately to come over to the PDP. The rash of defections is such that the National Assembly which started off with an APC majority is now in the minority.

Those who have turned antagonistic to Buhari’s re-election include leaders of both chambers of the legislature: president of the Senate, Bukola Saraki and speaker of the House of representatives, Yakubu Dogara.

Rather than help re-elect Buhari, General Obasanjo mended fences with his former Vice-President, Atiku Abubaker, whom he had sworn some years back never to support again. Obasanjo cited the worsening security situation in the country as one reason why Buhari should not be re-elected.

Buba Galadima, spokesman for the PDP has claimed that several of Buhari’s relatives have become ‘billionaires’ but has not provided any proof of it.

The APC scored an own-goal when they named a powerful seven-men campaign think-tank that included Nigeria’s legendary entrepreneur, Aliko Dangote. When Dangote bluntly refuted the claim, the APC was forced to issue a humbling public statement deleting the name.

Buhari has also been criticised for not doing enough to rein in the herders who are members of his Fulani ethnic group. Supporters of the President say he has taken steps to ameliorate the problem. Baba Uthman Ngelzarma, National Secretary of the Miyetti Allah umbrella organisation of the herders, said in Abuja recently that government was working on a programme that would enable herders return to original grazing reserves after such fields had been watered to make them suitable again as pastureland.      

Other critics of the President point to a sluggish economy. The government of President Goodluck Jonathan which he took over from grew the Nigerian economy to the number-one position on the continent by 2013, but the present GDP of $376.4bn can hardly compare with that of $630bn dollars with which the economy attained that enviable position.

The continuous rise of foreign debts in the last four years makes Nigerians nostalgic of the time in 2006 when their country became the first in Africa to pay off its debts to the Paris Club. Foreign debt is now well over $22bn while unemployment reached nearly 40% earlier in the year.

Government found that contrary to the electoral promises, it could not improve on the exchange rate of the naira. It was less than N160 to the US dollar when Buhari came in, but now is more than N360 to the dollar.

Buhari’s administration also hoped to bring down the pump price of petrol but instead that too has doubled, fuelling inflation that at the end of the year was 11.28%.

At 1.5% the economy is growing at less than the 2.5% the World Bank had forecast and well below the government’s own expectation of 3.5%.

When Buhari presented the 2019 Budget to the bicameral parliament he was booed for what critics see as the partiality with which he handled the anti-corruption campaign. There had been several instances when his supporters were accused but little or nothing was done by way of official sanction while opposition figures were routinely harassed.

When the Secretary of the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal, was alleged to have misused N270m it became a popular joke when he replied that the money had been used to cut grass. The money had been officially provided to alleviate food needs in the north-eastern districts with large numbers of internally displaced persons from the Boko Haram insurgency.

He was merely given a slap on the wrist and removed from his post.There was no further action on the misused fund.

Abubakar’s masterstroke?

Atiku Abubakar chose Peter Obi, who was a governor of the most prosperous state, Anambra as his running mate.Obi is also rated as one of Nigeria’s most principled leaders who left office without any illicit self-enrichment. Former President Obasanjo described him as a “bundle of integrity” Many Nigerians went over to the opposition PDP as a result of the combination.

The word, ‘Atikulation’, was immediately introduced in the Nigeria’s political discourse in praise of what was considered by many as a master-stroke strategy by the PDP.

Another factor that is considered in Abubaker’s favour is that he is also a Muslim Fulani, like Buhari. Mike Ahamba, a Senior Advocate (Nigeria’s equivalent of Queen’s Counsel), said: “I don’t think Atiku will have any difficulty defeating Buhari in this election. For the first time Buhari is going to face a Northern opponent; it is not North versus South … I don’t see why Atiku shouldn’t win this election.”

But Nigerian elections have a habit of confounding the pundits. Nothing can be taken for granted until the results have been counted and agreed on.

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Written by Peter Ezeh

Peter Ezeh is one of New African magazine's longest serving correspondents. He began his career in Nigeria and rose to the position of news editor of the Punch; served as Lagos chief correspondent of the Satellite newspaper group in Enugu and edited The Point in Port Harcourt. He he is an alumni of the University of Cambridge’s (Wolfson College) Press Fellowship programme.

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