Muhammadu Buhari promises to take Nigeria to the 'next level' after winning second term

The All Progressives Congress Party have retained the presidency and secured a majority in both houses of parliament

FILE PHOTO: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrives to vote in the presidential election in Daura, Katsina State, Nigeria, February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo
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It was billed as a close contest between two septuagenarian heavyweights vying to lead Africa’s largest democracy. But after a one-week delay, accusations of political chicanery from both sides, and election-related violence that led to at least 39 deaths, incumbent Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari secured a second term in office over major opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar.

For Mr Abubakar, an against-the-odds legal challenge to Mr Buhari’s mandate is underway. Mr Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) face the more straightforward task of governance after retaining the presidency and securing a majority in both houses of parliament.

Appointing a cabinet, which took more than six months in 2015, will now be Mr Buhari’s priority.

That delay was due to a lack of proper handover notes by the outgoing Goodluck Jonathan administration, and the process will run smoother this time as it’s a transition to himself, says Ayo Akanji, a presidential aide.

In a first term pockmarked by ministerial scandals, it is important for Mr Buhari to appoint quality officials to serve under him, says Tunde Leye, an economist at risk advisory firm SBM Intelligence.

But Mr Leye says if the re-appointment of Central Bank of Nigeria governor Godwin Emefiele for a second term is anything to go by, Nigerians can expect more of the same policies.

Nigeria’s economy is largely reliant on oil revenues – revenues that were hit by the 2014 global oil price crash that led the economy into a recession it only recently recovered from.

Although oil prices have seemingly stabilised, they are still far below the level Nigeria needs to provide adequate revenue for its spending, and with a fall in non-oil revenues in the latest government earnings, Nigeria keeps borrowing to stay afloat.

“For the first time in history, in 2018 oil revenues were not sufficient to cover Nigeria’s public service wages and that is a serious worry,” Mr Leye said.

Nigeria presently spends almost 70 per cent of its income servicing debt and has not significantly reduced spending to match diminished income. Public debt has nearly doubled in four years.

Economic indices paint a grim picture of Mr Buhari's first term, during which Nigeria slid past India to become the country with the most people living in extreme poverty. Almost half of Nigeria's estimated 197 million citizens live on less than $2 per day.

Unemployment is over 23 per cent and Nigeria remains a difficult climate for investors. Foreign Direct Investment dropped 36 per cent in 2018. Ghana, with a GDP about eight times smaller, attracts more.

Yet Mr Akanji is optimistic about Nigeria’s economic fortunes, saying Mr Buhari has led a “homegrown economic model” responsible for pulling the country out of recession.

“The diversification of the economy is in top gear as renowned companies are coming to set up factories and help spur the industrial complex in Nigeria,” he said.

For many in 2015, Mr Buhari’s reputation as a former military leader was proof that he was the man needed to root out the terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northeast, where a decade of violence has killed thousands and displaced many more.

The group, which gained worldwide notoriety after kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in 2014, continues to attack towns, military bases and even a convoy carrying a governor. Five years later, more than 112 girls are still missing.

A splinter faction of Boko Haram - the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) - was formed in 2016 and both groups continue to wreak havoc.

But Nigeria’s security issues extend beyond terror groups. A pastoral conflict, largely over land-use disputes, between itinerant herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region, has also exacerbated security concerns. A 2018 report by conflict monitoring organisation International Crisis Group said the clashes were “six times” deadlier than Boko Haram-related attacks in the first seven months of last year, with as many as 1,300 people killed.

“The farmer-herder violence has not been handled well, and it seems there is no strategy in place,” says Gani Yoroms, a Senior Fellow at Nigeria’s National Defence College.

Mr Yoroms believes Mr Buhari’s administration needs to “undertake serious political and security reforms” and many observers have suggested that security chiefs be changed during his second term.

But Mr Akanji, the presidential aide, says Mr Buhari, as a former general, “believes in the philosophy of not changing your generals in the midst of a frontal war.”

Another sticking point will be Mr Buhari’s own health. He spent several weeks in London in 2017 receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment. Last year he was forced to deny he had died and had been replaced by an impostor. At 76, Mr Buhari is one of the oldest leaders in Africa, in a country where more than 60 per cent of the population is under 25.

For Mr Buhari, the path to leading Nigeria to the “next level” looks fraught with challenges as the economic and security issues of his first term dominate the headlines going into his second.