STEPHEN ANGBULU and GODFREY GEORGE examine the progress and setbacks in Buhari’s quest to bolster the economy, improve national security and combat corruption
After handing over power to his successor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, on May 29, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), will make a triumphal entry into his home town of Daura, Katsina State. The fanfare in Daura will be akin to the Sallah festive season as the ancient city welcomes its son after eight years of service to the country.
To honour the President, the Daura Emirate Council is organising a grand durbar (horse riding). Dambe (boxing), kokuwa (traditional wrestling matches) and sharo/shadi (Fulani traditional festival) will also form part of the side attractions at Kangiwa Square, venue of the festivities, a Daily Trust report revealed.
When Buhari sits to watch the colourful events, he may wax pensive, reminiscing on the early days of his presidency or pre-presidency, particularly his address at Chatham House, London, which endeared him to the Nigerian electorate.
Promise of hope
On Thursday, February 26, 2015, Buhari, then the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, told a cross section of listeners at Chatham House that his administration would revive the ailing economy, stabilise Nigeria’s security by decimating Boko Haram and crush corruption in all its manifestations.
On security, he said, “Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently; that Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service. We will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with. We will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels; we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas.
“On corruption, there will be no confusion as to where I stand. Corruption will have no place and the corrupt will not be appointed into my administration. First and foremost, we will plug the holes in the budgetary process. Revenue producing entities such as NNPC and Customs and Excise will have one set of books only. Their revenues will be publicly disclosed and regularly audited. The institutions of state dedicated to fighting corruption will be given independence and prosecutorial authority without political interference.”
He also vowed to run a functional economy driven by a worldview that sees growth not as an end by itself, but as a tool to create a society that works for all, rich and poor alike.
The electorate fell head over heels for Buhari. His promises were lofty and timely too. Fatigued from years of Boko Haram bombings and attacks, Nigerians were desperately shopping for a saviour.
However, with the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja in 2010, multiple attacks on the police, other government security agents, schools, churches, mosques and newspaper offices, citizens no longer felt safe under Jonathan. Between April 2014 when Boko Haram kidnapped 276 school girls in Chibok, Borno State and January 2015, it (Boko Haram) had been responsible for at least 5,778 deaths, according to a study by the Africa Council on Foreign Relations.
The study also revealed that the terrorist group killed over 18,260 people between May 2011 when Jonathan took office and the time he handed over power to Buhari in May 2015. The collective verdict was passed. In the face of an attractive alternative, Jonathan didn’t stand a chance. He had to go!
More so, Buhari’s military background and northern origins reinforced the notion that the retired General would decimate Boko Haram and, like former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, proffer lasting peace to the decade-old militancy in the Niger Delta. Did he?
Security gains, drawbacks
The Buhari years saw an unprecedented number of military hardware procurement for the Army, Navy, Air force, police and other paramilitary organisations.
Under his watch, the Nigerian Army said it acquired hundreds of new equipment, including VT-4 main battle tanks, STI light tanks, SH2 & SH5 artillery platforms, MRAPs, ARRV and mine sweepers, infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled Howitzers, armoured fighting vehicles, mountain climber bikes and many others. In 2023, the Nigerian military acquired 700 brand-new troop-carrying vehicles; all assembled in Nigeria.
Since 2015, the Nigerian Navy has acquired more than 400 new platforms comprising 200 riverine patrol boats, 114 Rigid- Hull inflatable boats, two Seaward defence boats, 12 Manta Class/Inshore patrol craft, three Whaler boats, four Barges/ Tugboats, 22 Fast Attack Boats, 14 unmanned aerial vehicles, four helicopters, 14 River Town Class, 14 house boats and four Capital ships.
The Nigerian Air Force also procured 38 brand new aircraft since 2015. They consist of 10 Super Mushshak; five Mi-35M helicopters; two Bell 412 helicopters; four Agusta 109 helicopters; two Mi-171E helicopters; 12 A-29 Super Tucano; and three JF-17 Thunder. As of the first quarter of 2023, the Air Force says it is expecting 12 new AH-1Z attack helicopters and 24 M-346 fighter attack aircraft which it had ordered.
More so, the army is currently executing at least nine major security operations nationwide. They include: Operations Hadin Kai, Lake Sanity and Desert Sanity in the North-East, Hadarin Daji and Sharan Daji in the North-West, Safe Haven and Whirl Stroke in the North-Central and Operations Delta Safe and Dakatar Da Barawo in the South-South. More army divisions and special joint military and police task forces covering the country’s six geopolitical zones were also created under Buhari.
Creditably, the International Maritime Bureau revealed that the number of actual and attempted piracy attacks on ships on the coastline fell sharply from 48 in 2018 to six in 2021. At a point in time, terrorists were almost completely routed out of their Sambisa forest stronghold.
In its eight-year score sheet, the Buhari regime cited the Global Terrorism Index 2022 which said deaths caused by Boko Haram dropped by 92 per cent from 2,131 in 2015 to 178 in 2021. The report acknowledged Nigeria’s “successful counter-insurgency operations targetting Boko Haram” as a leading cause of the reduction in terrorism deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, whatever gains Buhari made in weakening Boko Haram were tainted by the bloodbath meted on Nigerians by killer herdsmen who ravaged the North-Central and south-western states. Although Boko Haram killed 19,129 persons under Buhari, herder attacks racked up that figure to 53,418 Nigerian lives lost between May 29, 2015 and October 15, 2022.
Citing figures from the Nigerian Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations of the United States of America, The PUNCH reported that the deaths occurred mostly from farmers/herders’ conflict, clashes by religious groups, and attacks by terrorists and bandits.
Also, kidnapping became a thriving industry on Buhari’s watch. Research portal, Dataphyte, calculated that cases of kidnapping of schoolchildren rose by 361.19 per cent during the regime, with 1,010 abducted between 2018 and 2021.
A report by SB Morgen Intelligence revealed that Nigerians paid at least $18.34m to kidnappers as ransom between June 2011 and March 2020. Also, the National Security Summit Report by the House of Representatives revealed that over $2.4m were paid to secure the release of schoolchildren in five separate mass kidnappings in the North-West in November 2020.
In July 2022, terrorists stormed the Kuje Correctional Centre, FCT, killed several persons and freed over 600 inmates, including 150 Boko Haram members. Daringly, terrorists, bandits and South-East gunmen have been ambushing and killing soldiers and police officers, assaulting military formations and police stations. Bandits attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, killed two officers and abducted another; terrorists ambushed a patrol team from the elite Presidential Brigade of Guards; and bandits once shot down a NAF Alpha jet.
Insecurity so worsened during the regime that some state governors defied the current embargo on the issuance of firearm licences and instructed their residents to bear arms for self-defence. Governors Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State and Aminu Massari of Katsina State have made several calls in this regard.
Last October, a former Minister of Defence, Lt.-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), also reiterated his call on Nigerians, especially residents of Taraba State, to acquire arms and defend themselves and their territories against bandits.
Speaking, Jackson Lekan-Ojo, a member of the International Security Association, Switzerland and a fellow of the International Institute of Professional Security in Nigeria, told our correspondent that although Buhari was fortunate to lead the most sophisticated intelligence and security outfits in sub-Saharan Africa, he failed to commandeer these assets for maximum security gains. Lekan-Ojo also argues that while Boko Haram seemed to have been decimated, it only metamorphosed into other equally dangerous strains.
If security and economy are closely linked, then Buhari’s drawbacks spelled heavy consequences for Nigerians, millions of whom are living below the poverty line.
So-so economic prosperity
At Chatham House, Daura-born retired General promised to run a functional economy and create a society that works for all; rich and poor alike. At the heart of this agenda was his plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty through heavy social investments.
In its eight-year scorecard, the Presidency revealed that Buhari launched the National Social Investment Programme, which contains over 46 million persons from over 11 million poor and vulnerable households. Out of these, it said two million poor and vulnerable Nigerian households currently benefitted from the Conditional Cash Transfer programme, which paid a bimonthly stipend of N10,000 per household. However, the results did not travel so far.
In mid-April, the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy Steering Committee revealed that about two million vulnerable Nigerians were impacted by its poverty-alleviation projects.
However, the co-chair of the committee’s Technical Working Group, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State, lamented that implementation was below expected levels. The project impacted only two per cent of the 100 million Nigerians the President hoped to lift out of poverty.
Also, unemployment climbed to nearly 37 per cent, miles away from the 17 per cent in 2015, as citizens living in multidimensional poverty now stand at 133 million. But the challenges did not begin today.
In the second quarter of 2016, the Nigerian economy contracted by 1.5 per cent and went into recession; the worst in 25 years. The National Bureau of Statistics said the sharp fall was due to plummeting oil revenues which stood at $26pb and a shortage of hard currency.
It (NBS) said, “This contraction reflects a difficult year for Nigeria, which included weaker inflation-induced consumption demand, an increase in pipeline vandalism, significantly reduced foreign reserves and a concomitantly weaker currency.”
Months prior, oil production, Nigeria’s economic mainstay, fell to 1.83 million barrels daily from 2.13 million bpd in 2015 as militancy flourished in the oil-rich Niger Delta. In 2020, the economy slipped into another recession; its second in just five years.
A November 2022 World Bank report revealed that development progress in Nigeria had stagnated since 2015 when Buhari assumed office. It (World Bank Report) said, “Nigeria’s development progress has stagnated since 2015. Between 2001 and 2014, Nigeria was a rising growth star in West Africa, with an average growth rate of seven per cent per year, and among the top 15 fastest-growing economies globally.
“The rising tide stopped since 2015 due to: (i) a decline in oil prices; (ii) increased insecurity; (iii) a reversal of macroeconomic reforms and heightened unpredictability of economic policies; and—more recently—(iv) the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a result, growth reduced to a 1.1 per cent average between 2015 and 2021. The subdued economic growth, coupled with a rapid increase in population at 2.6 per cent per year, one of the highest of the region, widened the gap in real GDP per capita between Nigeria and its peers.”
Although the economy recovered as oil prices rebounded at $60pb in 2017, the upstride was no match for “Buhari’s shallow economics, headlined by a confused foreign exchange system, uncoordinated populist schemes, faltering sectoral programmes and a command economy that inhibits private investment,” according to a PUNCH editorial.
While the naira exchanged officially at N197.8 to $1 in June 2015, it was N460.97 to $1 by April 2023. At the parallel market, where most users buy, it is over N760.
To plug the leakages, the Buhari regime resorted to borrowing its way into a new record in the history of a Nigerian government. The Debt Management Office put Nigeria’s debt at N12.12tn in June 2015, a debt-to-GDP ratio of 13.1 per cent. By 2023, however, that number has surpassed N44.7tn. ‘Ways and Means’ borrowing (mostly printing money) stands at N22.8tn.
Buoyed by a rubberstamp Ninth National Assembly, debt-to-GDP ratio rose to 34.7 per cent. This left little revenue at hand as debt servicing gulped 96 per cent of revenue in 2022, said the World Bank. As the debt profile coasts from N12.12tn in June 2015 to N77tn by June 2023, every Nigerian would owe over N384,000 while Buhari rests from his eight-year toil.
Perhaps the most memorable stint from the Buhari years for Nigerians would be the naira redesign policy and the attendant chaos it sparked nationwide. The scarcity of naira notes pounded Nigerians with more hardship than they could bear. Many farmers, particularly those in remote villages, switched to trade by barter in order to feed, losing about N30bn in the process, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria stated.
The Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions also revealed that banks lost N5bn nationwide, following attacks and destruction of their facilities by irate customers. More businesses incurred losses because of the policy, with the banks experiencing liquidity problems.
In the power sector, the Presidency scorecard cited several executed and ongoing projects, plans and interventions undertaken since 2015 across the generation, transmission, distribution, and policy reform spectrums. They include allocating N125.2bn for the Transmission Company of Nigeria, a National Mass Metering Programme that the FG claimed had provided one million meters and generated 10,000 jobs, a $550m Nigeria Electrification Project, Solar Power Naija project to deliver 5.0 million off-grid connections and impact 20 million persons, and the Presidential Power Initiative in collaboration with Siemens of Germany, and requiring $2bn additional investment in the transmission grid.
However, reports show that that the sole transmission grid had so far collapsed 99 times on Buhari’s watch. On May 18, the Nigeria Electricity System Operator estimated current peak generation of the day at 4,725.60MW and lowest generation at 2,674MW.
In eight years, effective transmission capacity still does not come close to serving Africa’s largest economy. This is a far cry from Buhari’s 2015 promise of 10,000MW. With a yawning infrastructure deficit, power shortages, sudden blackouts and heavy debts, the power sector has maintained its winning streak against every administration since 1999, including Buhari’s, but it’s not all doom and gloom.
Some, nonetheless, believe that the retired General has done visibly well in terms of infrastructural development. At the policy level, Buhari established the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria in February 2021, with initial seed Capital of N1tn provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority and the Africa Finance Corporation.
It is, however, believed in some quarters that road infrastructure flourished on his watch, with the FG investing over $1bn in three flagship projects: Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge which had defied previous administrations.
In January 2019, Buhari issued Executive Order No. 7 on the Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme, allowing companies that are willing and able to spend their funds on constructing critical roads, to recover their construction costs by paying reduced taxes, over a period of time, and in a transparent manner.
So far, about N3tn has been mobilised or committed through Executive Order 7, for road projects across all six geopolitical zones of the country, by companies like Dangote Group, MTN, BUA, NLNG and NNPC Limited, says the Presidency.
Buhari’s infrastructure drive also made notable progress with railroads. His regime completed the 156km Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Rail within a “Nigerian-record-time of four years” (2017 to 2021). The 8.72km extension to Lagos-Ibadan Rail Line, to Lagos Port Complex was completed in 2021.
Others include 186km Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge Rail Line, completed and inaugurated in 2016; 327km Itakpe-Warri Standard Gauge Rail completed and launched in 2020, 33 years after construction began; full rehabilitation of the Railway Village, Agbor, as well as construction of a Railway Ancillary Facilities Yard, also in Agbor, Delta State. In 2021, the line commenced commercial freight haulage, transporting pipelines for the AKK Gas Pipeline project.
On May 17, the FG approved the concession of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano for 20 and 30 years respectively. Within that period, it planned to generate $797.4m (N368.8bn) as concession fees and taxes from the Concessionaire, Corporación America Airports. This is asides from various safety-centred renovations and upgrades of airport facilities nationwide. To ensure accountability in project implementation, Buhari launched a citizens-centred monitoring and evaluation platform called, EYEMARK.
Sheriffdeen Tella, a Professor of Economics at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, said although the President revamped part of the railway and aviation sectors, he (Buhari) failed in general economic performance. He said, “When it comes to economic issues, we cannot score the President any average of good. He has not done well. But he has done well in the area of rail and transport infrastructure.
“However, in the general management of the economy, he has not done well. The rate of unemployment is still very high. We are still not far from being the poverty capital of the world, except that we traded places with India. We have entered into a debt trap. Again, we are still looking for more loans while we use 80 per cent of our revenue to service debts. It’s not good enough.”
In his 2015 campaign, Buhari popularised the mantra, “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” In its eight-year factsheet, the regime reeled out an impressive list of policies, reforms, ordinances and institutions initiated or upgraded to fight corruption. In October 2022, the President himself insisted that he had “strengthened the institutions for tackling corruption and cultivated international support, which aided the repatriation of huge sums of money illegally kept outside the country. He said the increasing numbers of prosecutions and convictions with associated refunds of large sums of money were still ongoing.”
On his watch, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission secured 3,785 convictions of fraudsters and treasury looters in 2022 alone. In 2021, it recorded 2,220 convictions, continuing a pattern of increased convictions; from 103 in 2015, it rose to 195 in 2016, 312 in 2018, spiking to 1,280 in 2019. Over $121 million was also recovered in the 10 months to October 2021, said Abdulrasheed Bawa, EFCC Chairman.
For the full year, recovered stolen funds amounted to N152bn and $386m and smaller sums on other currencies. This is asides from fixed and movable property seized in Nigeria and abroad.
Between 2019 and 2022, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission said it “recovered, forfeited and restrained” assets valued at N450.99bn from corrupt persons. Of the 4,705 investigations and 309 prosecutions ICPC undertook in that period it secured 85 convictions.
The Centre for Democracy and Development noted that Buhari “consistently turned a blind eye to malfeasance by some of his appointees and resisted independent oversight of Nigeria’s most scandal-ridden agencies.” Lapses also surfaced in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system, even as some agencies flouted the TSA without consequences.
A former state governor walked free from a N5bn fraud trial after he stepped down from the contest for the Senate presidency in favour of Ahmad Lawan, the regime’s anointed candidate. Abdulrasheed Maina, who was accused in 2012 of diverting pension funds to the tune of billions of naira and was declared wanted by the police and the EFCC, was in 2017 secretly reabsorbed into service and promoted; a move said to have been orchestrated by some figures in the regime.
In 2022, Buhari granted pardon to two convicted ex-governors, of Plateau and Taraba states, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame respectively. A suspended Accountant-General of the Federation allegedly carted away N109bn out of which he has returned N30bn, according to the EFCC.
Buhari’s customary inattentiveness, lack of hands-on supervision, other leadership lapses like cronyism and failure to rein in members of his inner circle and heads of key agencies, and the influence of the corrupt political elite ruined his anti-corruption fight, a PUNCH editorial dated May 5, 2023 noted.
Perhaps no one holds this claim more than the Chairman, Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran. He said whatever gains Buhari made in apprehending corrupt government officials was lost to a lack of political will to prosecute them.
“It was during this administration that three or four former governors were convicted even when their cases had been pending for more than 12 years. But at the end of the day, the same administration polluted its achievements by granting state pardon to some of these corruption criminals who were supposed to rot in jail.
“And that gave more impetus to people who would want to commit that act. They now believe that they are not likely to serve their terms even when they are caught, prosecuted and convicted. This demoralises the investigators and prosecutors; it may be what is responsible for the pervasive corruption allegations within the government,” Adeniran said.
However, he argued, “The efforts Buhari has made since the inception of his administration has been worthwhile but it has not sprouted to fruition. That is why the proceeds of his efforts have not manifested in the magnitude that Nigerians wanted.”
Recalling Buhari’s statement
From his comments on inauguration day in 2015, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”, Buhari sent a strong message to Nigerians who may seek to own him. However, his appointment pattern has been a source of controversy among Nigerians who faulted him for marginalisation and disregard for Federal Character policy.
According to public records, the South-East and South-South have marginal representation in Buhari’s regime, while the North takes majority of the appointments.
In June 2020, some southern leaders hauled Buhari before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court over alleged marginalisation in his appointments. They claimed to have found the President to be in breach of Federal Character as composition of the government and most of its agencies, especially the security and quasi-security architecture, reflected a predominance of persons from a few states and sectional groups dominating the opportunities.
In a 2015 interview with BBC Hausa, Buhari explained that he nominated people he could trust, and who had worked with him for years, giving fodder to the marginalisation claims especially from the South-East.
However, Buhari argued differently. As of 2017, he said he gave the South-East four substantive ministers. “I gave South-East four substantive ministers in the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Investment, Science and Technology and Labour. Seven states in the North got Ministers of State and of the two ministries headed by your sons, I cannot take any decision on foreign policy and investments without their input,” he said. At the last count, the President’s 44-minister-cabinet has at least 22 persons who are from the South or North-Central states.
Speaking on the performance of the outgoing President, a senior lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Dr Ikechukwu Ugwueze, said Buhari failed to deliver on all his campaign promises to Nigerians, adding that Nigerians “passed through hell”.
He told Saturday PUNCH that, “the outgoing President surrounded himself with people who had no idea of what they were to do in governance. Even the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, admitted that he had no idea of how to run the Education ministry when he was appointed minister. The President kept round pegs in square holes, which had no business in governance.
“Nigerians who are still alive to welcome a new government should go about celebrating. If we are to score this administration, they will score nothing more than 40/100, and that is because I am being lenient.”
Also, a Professor of Economics, Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State, Baldwin Ashiegbu, said the facts and figures were there to show whether the President did well or not.
“We should ask ourselves what the Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria was when Buhari came to power and what it is now. What is the inflation rate now? What was it pre-Buhari administration? What was our foreign reserve? What is it now? What was the borrowing rate? What is it now? When we answer these questions honestly, we will then know whether or not he did well,” he said.
A security expert, Mr Nnamdi Anekwe-Chieve, told Saturday PUNCH that Buhari defeated Boko Haram but gave the country banditry and kidnapping for ransom.
“I will say that there was an attempt to quell the problem in the North-East, but banditry and kidnapping for ransom have refused to go away. There was no comprehensive plan for the security forces to have their hold on internal security. Look at the Kuje prison attack; it is a clear case of irresponsible handling of sensitive information,” he said.
In all, from the experiences of the past eight years, Nigerians, living and unborn, will mark Buhari’s script in the years after his presidency.