Nigeria ‘running on empty’?


A former Nigerian military dictator has just won a historic democratic election and is sworn in amidst tremendous international and domestic goodwill, notes analyst Amaka Anku. He immediately goes to work tackling the nation’s endemic corruption, she writes for Ventures Africa:

The notoriously opaque Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is a primary target: parasitic middlemen in crude oil sales are squeezed out, senior staff is overhauled, and transparency is improved.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the preceding paragraph was meant to describe Nigeria in 2015.  No, that was 1999, and the former military dictator was Olusegun Obasanjo.  Yet, that paragraph precisely describes current President Muhammadu Buhari’s first year in office. In Nigeria, history repeats itself—over and over again.

Most damaging though is the political impact that is beginning to cost Mr Buhari allies. His decision-making style appears, even to senior members of the administration, overly secretive, The Financial Times adds:

Some criticise him for failing to consult with his cabinet and view his refusal to listen to alternative points of view. Obiageli Ezekwesili, who served as a minister in two previous administrations and once led the World Bank’s Africa division, recently criticised Mr Buhari’s economic policies as “opaque” and “archaic”, saying that something that “did not work in 1984 cannot possibly be a solution in a global economy that’s much more integrated”.

Advisers to the president say his original priority was to lift people out of poverty. It was not to please the wealthy business community and skittish foreign portfolio investors. But those close to the administration claim there are signs of a shift in ideology within government: from the unbridled crony capitalism of the past to a more state-driven vision for promoting industry and jobs.

The Nigerian playwright and poet Wole Soyinka has spent his career deploying words against kleptocrats and dictators, a practice that earned him 22 months in solitary confinement in Nigeria and later a death sentence in absentia, The Atlantic reports:

“Art should expose, reflect, indeed magnify the decadent, rotten underbelly of a society that has lost its direction,” he wrote in 1977. In 2016, he sees that rotten underbelly stretching roughly from Raqqa in Syria, which ISIS claims as its capital, to the Sambisa Forest in Nigeria, where the group’s affiliate Boko Haram is active.

For Soyinka, the fight is urgent and existential. Twin threats—the depredations of Boko Haram and the corruption that corroded the Nigerian state under former President Goodluck Jonathan—have placed his country in a “precarious” situation, he said last week, in a talk at the Human Rights Foundation’s Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway.

Nigeria’s observers ought to know that the nation’s leaders have never lacked compelling policy papers.  What they often lack is political will, adds Anku (left), a Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy:

And, like it or not, Buhari is beholden to the same corrupt forces that brought many of his predecessors to power and subsequently prevented them from acting holistically against corruption.  For instance, there remain figures in Buhari’s close circle with credible accusations of corruption. If he fails to move against them, Nigerians may well feel some déjà vu, yet again, at the next election cycle.


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