Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

High expectations for Nigerian leader

A former general many regard with respect, Muhammadu Buhari has a long list of tasks to complete to put Nigeria back on an even keel, writes Haitham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

‌Muhammadu Buhari, the former general who was sworn in as Nigeria’s president on 29 May, faces a difficult test. Not only his political future is at stake, but the very wellbeing of his country. Coming to power amid high hopes, the man who unseated an incumbent president is now expected to deliver on the promises he made during the presidential campaign.

‌Buhari told Nigerians that he will stamp out poverty, crime and corruption, as well as demolish the terrorist group known as Boko Haram. Now he needs to deliver on these promises, says Mamadou Rachid, a Nigerian journalist. But many in the country question his ability to get the job done.

‌The Centre for Democracy and Development West Africa (CDD), a nonprofit organisation, developed an app for citizens to track the achievements of their new leader. The app, called the “Bharimeter,” allows users to consult documents on government performance and participate in debates about the country’s policies.

‌Rachid says that Buhari’s track record is the reason for the high expectations surrounding his election. The former general came to power once before, through a military coup. During his rule, lasting from December 1983 until August 1985, he staged a relentless campaign to fight corruption. He was unseated in another coup.

‌Now this former coup leader has come to power as a democratic candidate. Although his main constituency is in the predominantly Muslim north, he is a popular figure in the largely Christian south as well, where many see him as a strongman capable of standing up to Boko Haram.

‌On 2 June, in his first meeting with army generals and police commissioners, Buhari pledged to dismantle Boko Haram. Speaking in Chad two days later, he said that there is no place in his country for an “African Taliban.” Khadr Abdel Baqi, a professor at Kano State University, believes that the campaign against Boko Haram is overdue, as it poses a clear threat to the country’s integrity.

‌But other experts say that Nigeria’s problems are greater than the terrorism of Boko Haram. Unemployment, inflation, corruption and mismanagement, experts say, are just as detrimental to Nigeria as the atrocities of the ultra-radical Islamist group.

‌Nigeria is Africa’s largest country. With a population of 173 million, according to 2013 figures, Nigeria has a GDP of $521 billion, making it the 25th-largest economy in the world. But its modest per capita income, of $2,710, is only one of many hindrances facing this multi-ethnic, multi-faith nation.

‌Nearly half of all Nigerians live under the poverty line. And due to poor healthcare and continual strife, life expectancy is currently estimated at 52 years. Nearly 55 per cent of the population are illiterate and the unemployment rate is about 13.6 per cent, according to ILO figures.

‌Unemployment in the Muslim north offers a great recruitment opportunity for Boko Haram, says Rachid. About 50 per cent of Nigerians are Muslims who live mostly in the north. About 40 per cent are Christians, who live in the south; the remaining 10 per cent follow other religions.

‌Nigeria’s central government is fighting on three fronts: against Boko Haram in the north, the Movement for the Emancipation of Liberation of the Niger Delta in the south and Biafra insurgents in the east.

‌According to Loseelo Oding, a rights activist, Nigerian schools only have places for 85 per cent of children in the country, leaving out 15 per cent without hope of education. Hospitals in Nigeria, Oding says, lack doctors, nurses, medicine and beds. Education, health, and other services are in a state of “near collapse” due to corruption. According to Transparency International (TI), a group that monitors corruption around the world, Nigeria is ranked 136th on a list of 175 countries, with a transparency index of 27 per cent.

‌Buhari is already clamping down on absenteeism among government employees. But Oding expects more: “We want to see the big steps he took in the 1980s, when he threw more than 500 politicians and government officials in prison for corruption.” TI claims that Nigeria lost $175 billion over the past ten years to corruption.

‌Nigeria ranks 74th out of 142 countries in judiciary independence. It also ranks 126th of 179 countries in press freedoms.

‌According to Oding, Buhari is popular among the talakawa, the word for “poor” in the Hausa dialect spoken in the north, which may help him push through some of his more ambitious social programmes in the country.

‌Buhari also has a reputation for military prowess. He is the one who won back the Nigerian part of the Lake Chad basin, which had been grabbed by Chadian forces in 1982. Many believe he will be able win back this same area, now under Boko Haram control. The former general also led a successful campaign to eradicate extremist groups in the north in 1983.

‌In 2014, Buhari escaped an assassination attempt by Boko Haram, an incident that boosted his popularity among Christians and helped him win the elections earlier this year.

Over the past few years, Boko Haram has emerged as a key threat not only to Nigeria, but also to neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Attacks by the ultra-radical group forced nearly 1.5 million people to flee their homes in northeast Nigeria.

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