Buharinomics: 12 graphs to understand Buhari’s economic legacy

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Buharinomics

By Temitayo Lawal
Posted on Monday, 18 July 2022 12:42

Buhari won the Nigerian presidential election back in 2015 – following three failed attempts – on a promise that he would turn the ailing economy around, tapping into his background as a retired military general to end insecurity. In this first part of our series, we evaluate a variety of data spanning several years, to create a picture of Buhari’s economic success – and his failures.

This is part 1 of a 5-part series

His phrase “if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria” became the de facto slogan of his election campaign. It hinged on three major pillars: economy, security, and corruption. His promises won him another term in 2019.

However, as Buhari prepares to leave office next year, it is time to address his legacy and whether he made good on his election promises.

Economic growth (GDP)

Nigeria’s economy entered recession twice in five years during Buhari’s tenure. The initial one during his first full year as president (in 2016) was Nigeria’s first recession in 25 years. The trigger was the dip in oil prices and the reduced capacity to produce crude oil: the price of crude oil fell from $112 per barrel in 2014 to $50 per barrel in August 2016 and crude oil production reduced by about 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.56 million bpd.

In 2020, global pandemic-induced lockdowns led to a sharp decline in demand for oil, which resulted in the dip in oil prices from $60 per barrel in December 2019 to as low as $18 per barrel in April 2020. However, Buhari also doubles as the oil minister, and his inefficient management of the sector is a factor that cannot be ignored.

Before the 2016 recession, some analysts expected that the president would remove the fuel subsidy, which continues to drain government revenue. Instead, the president doubled down on the subsidy, missing the chance to save cash to protect the economy from external shocks relating to oil price dips in the future.

Vandalism as well as large-scale oil theft has significantly reduced the country’s crude oil output and has made many foreign oil companies such as Shell and Eni declare force majeure in some of their outlets, further reducing output – although he did successfully phase out renewed militancy in the oil-producing regions.

Even as oil prices are now around $100 per barrel for the first time in seven years, Nigeria has not been able to meet the quota allotted to it by OPEC and is unable to benefit from the oil price spike.

Economic diversification

Over-reliance on oil proceeds to run the government and insufficient outcome of the government’s diversification drive exacerbated the crises in 2016 and 2020. Oil contributes only about ten per cent to the country’s economy but has typically generated most of its revenue and foreign exchange earnings.

Its share of both in the last five years up to 2020 were 50% and 80% respectively, according to the World Bank. Since oil revenue’s share of total revenue has consistently reduced, the increased percentage share of non-oil revenue isn’t entirely a success of economic diversification.

In fact, as seen in the graph above, as the oil sector averagely declined by 3.83% in the seven years under review, the non-oil sector only grew by 1.31%.

The non-oil tax receipts subdivision of non-oil revenues almost doubled in seven years, however, even though its percentage share (68.65%) of total tax receipts was about the same as it was in 2015 (65.53%), implying that any efforts to diversify the economy have not really succeeded.


Nigeria’s unemployment rate quadrupled from 7.98% in 2014 to 33.3% in 2020 under Buhari. By 2021, 23.2 million people in Nigeria were unemployed: 52.6% of first degree holders, 45.7% of master’s degree holders and 37.6% of doctorate degree holders were either unemployed or underemployed. 42.5% or over 12.7m young people are unemployed.

President Buhari’s job-creation strategy has largely revolved around agriculture and government-managed schemes like N-Power Programme, which temporarily employed young people largely in primary schools for a stipend.

His agriculture-led job creation drive wasn’t sufficient to absorb millions of unemployed youths because of its laser focus on cultivation or farming, which is still largely subsistence, rather than focusing on the whole value chain.

Some critics say that the operational model of N-Power, and similarly structured projects, made it unsustainable because of negligible private sector involvement and lack of government capacity to sustainably shoulder the wage bill of the millions it was trying to enlist.

Foreign investment

Capital flows to Nigeria declined by more than half from over $20bn in 2014 to over $9bn in 2015. It further declined almost by half the following year, after which it has consistently grown until the country had another recession in 2020. It has since dipped to $6.7bn in 2021 from over $22bn in 2019.

Last year, 24 states out of 36 and the Federal Capital Territory attracted zero investments. 10 of those 24 states had not attracted investment in the past three years.

The drop in foreign capital has been largely caused by worsening insecurity, which has spread to other parts of the country under President Buhari. Moreover, the unreliable foreign exchange administration and unpredictable policy environment mean investors may be unwilling to take on the FX risk.

Government spending structure

The Nigerian government has historically spent less on capital projects, but the Buhari administration doubled the recurrent spending in seven years. In 2019, it had a record N6.9trn ($16.2bn) recurrent expenditure as against N3.4trn spent in 2014.

On the other hand, it also tripled the capital expenditure even though its total percentage share of the total spend remained under 25%. In 2019, his administration spent about N2.3trn on capital projects as against the N783bn spent in 2014.

Since the period under review (2011), the government has always run a deficit, but the Buhari administration spiked the deficit almost nine-fold to over N7.3trn from N835bn in 2014.


The government has resorted to borrowing since it has not been making enough revenue and not attracting sufficient foreign capital. Buhari’s administration doubled Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio to 35% in 2020 from 17.5% in 2014. In comparison, however, the debt to GDP ratio in some African peers are: South Africa – 69.45%; Egypt – 89.84%; Ethiopia – 57.92%; and Kenya – 67.57%.

According to data made available by Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, total external debt for the federal government and states ballooned from N1.6trn in 2014 to over N15.8trn in 2021, with the federal government accounting for over N13.8trn of it. The federal government’s domestic debt has also spiked from N7.9trn in 2014 to over N19.2trn in 2021.

Consequently, the federal government’s annual public service to revenue ratio has increased from 25% in 2014 to over 60% in 2020 and over 76% in 2021 (January to November). This may be unsustainable given that Nigeria cannot afford to spend almost all it earns servicing debt. The presidency argues that most of the debt they incur is spent on critical infrastructure, which they believe will facilitate economic growth.

Given the volatility in the economy, investors are charging a higher-risk premium for Nigerian Eurobonds, adding to debt servicing issues. The Buhari government has also admitted that the debt service has been a problem because they are unable to grow revenues to levels that can accommodate rising borrowings.


The highlights of Buhari’s trade policy were the land border closure and barring over 40 items from accessing FX for importation. An example was his ban on rice importation in order to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production.

Importation began to grow and even peaked at $100bn after the 2016 recession, but started declining after the border closure in 2019.


Inflation is one of Buhari’s major sins, especially among the poor people who are his strongest electoral base. By 2017, the inflation rate had already doubled to 16.5%. In March 2021, it reached 18.17% but began to decline.

It was 15.92% as at March 2022, according to the NBS. Diesel prices went from N288 in January to N700 in March this year. Since Nigerians spend 56.65% of their money on food, according to the NBS, rising food prices are being felt throughout the economy.

As a president whose political messaging and economic agenda slant have revolved around supporting poor and ordinary Nigerians, Buhari may be remembered for the higher cost of living that has put pressure on large swathes of the electorate.

Foreign reserves and exchange management

Since 2014, FX reserve levels have remained relatively stable due to stringent FX management. For instance,  Nigerians can’t spend more than $20 on their naira card for foreign transactions and businesses can’t access FX to import over 40 items banned by the CBN. The CBN has also hesitated to devalue the Naira many times in line with the government’s preference.

This has led to a wide premium margin between the official exchange rate and the parallel market. The official value is currently N413 per dollar, while it trades at over N580 in the parallel market. In order to incentivise non-oil export and foreign exchange inflow, the federal government has also launched a rebate policy to pay non-oil exporters N65 for every dollar they bring into the country officially.

The president’s strong political leaning and his critiqued influence over monetary policy also made it difficult for the CBN to adopt market-related policy decisions.

The president on several occasions “ordered” the CBN not to do certain things like provide forex for food imports and has specifically stated his anti-devaluation stance.

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