Nigerians took to the polls on 28 March 2015 in what has been termed the most expensive election in African history. After four nail biting days, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Major General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party as the president-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
General Buhari was military head of state of the country from 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985. Prior to this win, he had sought to become democratically elected as president three other times, albeit unsuccessfully.
With Nigerians tired of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, marred by corruption, the Boko Haram Insurgency and a host of other problems, it was time for change. Nigerians could not bear four more years of the same, thus they welcomed the election of General Buhari.
Many Nigerians believe General Buhari has his work cut out for him. Two critical issues which need to be addressed urgently are corruption and security. Corruption is endemic in Nigeria, while the Boko Haram Insurgency has brought up security challenges, which have their own economic implications. Other pertinent issues include poverty reduction, a high rate of unemployment, educational development and power sector reforms.
In a 2014 poll commissioned by Lagos-based daily newspaper BusinessDay, the majority of Nigerians wanted the new administration to focus on electricity. Other economic issues indicated in the poll, in order of priority, were security, job creation, roads, education, health care, agricultural/food security, potable water, transportation and corruption. These issues, if addressed, will raise the standard of living of the common Nigerian.
It is interesting that the polls put corruption at the lowest priority, given that the curbing of corruption is bound to impact the accomplishment of other economic issues on the list. This is more so since corruption can be said to be the bane of Nigeria’s development.
General Buhari and his incoming administration would have to tackle dwindling government revenue due to a fall in oil prices and reduced production. A revival of oil sector reforms that stalled under the Jonathan administration is also expected. The oil sector reforms, if implemented, will have significant positive impact on oil and gas investments.
Pre-election economic growth
Available data from the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics shows the Nigerian economy grew 5.31 per cent, 4.21 per cent and 5.49 per cent respectively from 2011 to 2013. The estimated growth rate for 2014 was 6.3 per cent. With the rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP from 1990 to 2010, the Nigerian economy is now the largest economy in Africa and the 26th largest in the world, with a GDP of over US$500 billion per annum.
However, a December 2014 special report by Nigerian online newspaper Premium Times suggests there are some bitter truths about Nigeria’s economic growth claims. Essentially, the report stated that recent growth performance by the country has mainly been shaped by improvement in global trends rather than sound economic policy management.
The report noted that recent global developments, including a previous rise in oil prices and a shift in foreign investor interest to developing countries, aided Nigeria in attracting foreign investment, especially in non-oil sectors. Therefore, despite the myriad of problems the country was facing, the economy appeared to be developing impressively.
Even as the Jonathan administration has claimed achievements of good economic ratios, critics point out that foreign direct investment is less than 1 per cent of GDP, non-oil fiscal revenue has fallen to roughly 4 per cent of GDP, and financial market development is poor, at 19 per cent of GDP.
Furthermore, growth in the economy has not translated to better quality of life for Nigerians. For this to happen, the government would have to consider Nigerian expectations. It would need to improve public institutions, infrastructure and invest in educational development among other things – things the Nigerian people are hoping the new administration will deliver.
Fostering robust economic growth
This begs the question: How can the president-elect and his incoming administration turn the tide to ensure more robust economic growth and foreign direct investment? General Buhari, in a series of interviews before and after the election, has said that his primary goals are defeating the Boko Haram Insurgency, combatting corruption and creating jobs.
In defeating Boko Haram, he plans to make the military more effective in their operations, sourcing for weapons and ammunition to fight the insurgents. The help of neighbouring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger and the international community will also be required. His military background and his handling of the Maitatsine sect, a fundamentalist religious group of insurgents in the 1980s, when he was head of state, might yet prove useful in addressing this menace to the African economy and people.
On the issue of corruption, he plans to tackle corruption to the fullest by imposing accountability and dealing with the culture of corruption in different ministries and the leadership at various levels. His stance is a zero level of tolerance towards corruption from the first day he is sworn into office, slated for 29 May 2015. This approach would be starkly different from the 1980s when many investigations of politicians, officials and businessmen under his military rule were seen as excesses or abuses of power.
His economic blue print is to put in place regulations, strategies, policies and visions to stabilise the economy, secure the country and ensure progress. While details of this blue print currently appear unclear, General Buhari has said he plans to further diversify the economy by investing in agriculture and mining, and ensuring job creation. With the selection of his economic advisers, the new administration’s approach to the economy will be clearer. But the projection is that the new administration will continue with many of the Jonathan administration’s priorities, such as power and agricultural reform, and liberalisation of parts of the economy.
If the incoming administration is able to deliver on these promises, it will create an enabling environment for business to flourish. Foreign direct investment is bound to increase and resources are likely to be managed effectively for infrastructure development. Already, the Nigerian Stock Exchange has reacted positively to the peaceful election and the absence of violence post election. General Buhari’s emergence as president-elect has been accompanied with positive market sentiment, which is good for the economy.
A further significant booster towards robust economic growth under Buhari’s incoming administration has to be the gains his party, APC made in the national assembly and recently concluded gubernatorial elections. Buhari’s party will be in control of both the Senate and House of Representatives, effectively making it easier for laws to be passed. State governors are influential in party politics and control huge budgets. Therefore, the results of the governorship elections, which show APC victorious in a majority of the states including Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria with a GDP of $91 billion, will further consolidate the incoming administration’s power. APC also won in the northern states of Kaduna and Katsina, two opposition strongholds since the end of military rule in 1999.
One thing the 2015 election has shown is that Nigerians are willing to bring about change. General Buhari and his party ran for office on the theme of change. The public view is that if the incoming administration does not perform by 2019, when the next election is due, they will be ousted like the Jonathan Administration was ousted for underperformance and ineffective leadership. Nevertheless, even a few steps forward towards economic progress by 2019 would be worth the change.