Trinity View – General Buhari and the Nigerian Elections

Published: 05/06/15

The recent election in Nigeria was given a level of interest across the world not usually accorded to African politics. It was described in various quarters as Nigeria’s most important political contest since the end of military rule in 1999, and was held against a backdrop of tension between the predominantly Christian South and Muslim North with the ever present threat of Boko Haram. The Economist, in a piece focussing on the election in Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s largest economy (having overtaken South Africa’s in 2014), described Nigeria as a ‘powder keg’. With much of the world, and particularly the energy industry, having braced itself for the scheduled mid-February polling day, election day was postponed at a late stage until late March. This was ostensibly to allow for greater distribution of polling cards and to allow the security forces some further time in which to quell Boko Haram’s uprising in the north of the country. There were also fears that voting would divide itself along geographic and sectarian lines, with the more prosperous South of the country favouring the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party and the poorer, more Islamic North supporting General Buhari All People’s Congress. A Gallup poll taken shortly before the election showed that only 13% of Nigerians had confidence in the fairness of elections in their country.

For those who expected chaos, the Nigerian election of 2015 flattered to deceive. In a contest of firsts, President Jonathan quickly conceded defeat to General Buhari, marking the first occasion on which the incumbent in a Nigerian election has been evicted from office by popular vote. General Buhari’s inauguration took place last week in Abuja. At the time of writing, there has been little unrest related to the presidential election result and the process of transition has so far been relatively smooth. There has, however, been violence in Rivers State in relation to the gubernatorial election, with 55 APC members reported to have been killed. In some senses the election and its aftermath were arguably more important for the message they sent out about the prospects of democratic reform across the continent. Although it is still early days, commentators have remarked that this election result will send a signal to some of Africa’s more authoritarian regimes that pressure for democratic change cannot continue to be ignored. Observers on the ground representing the European Union commented that they believed the election had been broadly free and fair.

General Buhari faces a daunting workload. Despite its oil riches, Nigeria’s wealth gap remains significant, with large proportions of its population surviving on less than two dollars a day. The fall in the oil price seen during late 2014 and early 2015 continues to have an impact on the economy, with the Naira having devalued recently. Corruption remains a major problem, one which General Buhari has pledged himself to overcome, stating that “if Nigeria does not defeat corruption, corruption defeats Nigeria.

Outgoing President Jonathan’s record on tackling corruption was widely seen as poor, with such embarrassments as the claim by the President of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company had failed to account for over US$20 billion in oil revenues, which arguably contributed to loss of his post shortly afterwards. On top of all these problems, the Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria remains a threat to the country’s security and stability, although recent military action against the group has seen the release of large numbers of Nigerians previously kept prisoner.

Leading Africa’s biggest economy and its most populous nation, a fledgling democracy endowed with substantial natural resources but riven by widespread poverty, religious division and corruption cannot and will never be an easy task. Time will tell whether General Buhari is up to the task that has been set for him by Nigeria’s electorate. Goodluck Jonathan was perceived by some as a relatively capable administrator who was in the right job at the right time, but not the leader that Nigeria requires to move onto the next stage of its development. General Buhari’s presidency will likely take place against a backdrop of a continuing fall in Nigeria’s oil production (which remains by far its most important export, forming 94% of exports in 2013), with 2013 output being 1,754,000 bpd, down from a peak of 2,440,000 bpd in 2005. A long road may lie ahead, but Nigeria has taken an important first step towards greater transparency by holding a free and open election, the results of which were unchallenged.

In terms of the way forward, Nigeria’s power sector remains key: load shedding and lack of available grid power is strangling both industry and individual consumers alike. Fortunately for General Buhari, there are a number of well-developed independent power projects (including the Azura 450MW IPP in Edo State), which require a final push from government in certain key areas before they can reach financial close. To say the opportunities have been handed to the new government on a plate may be overstating it but in Trinity’s view, some joined-up thinking at government level can deliver some fairly swift and concrete results in terms of evidencing delivery by the government in certain key areas, including the power sector. Other sectors, including ports and road infrastructure, are similarly poised to reap the rewards of a new and eager government.

Nigeria’s time has come to deliver on the promise of its potential for the entire population and we at Trinity look forward to being part of that journey.

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