Nigeria: Buhari’s legacy is one of ‘missed opportunities and inaction’ says analyst

By Ruth Olurounbi
Posted on Tuesday, 23 March 2021 18:26, updated on Monday, 29 March 2021 20:22

Nigeria Boko Haram School Attacked
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, centre, speaks during a meeting with the freed schoolboys on Friday Dec. 18, 2020 in Katsina, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

29 May 2021 will mark six years since Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari took office with a promise to safeguard the lives of the electorates, fight crippling corruption and improve livelihoods in Africa’s most populous nation. More than half a decade later, analysts have scored the president’s performance as “weak” and see him as having "failed" in his mandate.

When President Buhari came to power in 2015 after “many years of lackluster governance,” the expectations were, within the domestic and international audiences, that the new administration could potentially turn things around and deliver progressive “change” that would propel the nation forward, says Matthew Page, an associate fellow, at the Africa Programme at Chatham House.

Among the many failures of the past administration led by former President Goodluck Jonathan was security of its citizens. This led to the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, Boko Haram insurgency and Yobe school shootings among other incidents. Another failure was corruption, which eventually became the hallmark of Jonathan’s presidency.

Failing security

The recent abductions of schoolboys in Kankara community, Katsina and in Niger state, kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls in Zamfara state, as well as other violent attacks across the country do not only point to a spike in failing security in Nigeria, but also fulfils the Islamist insurgents’ campaign to bar access to education in the northern areas as state governors order temporary closure of schools in the region, says Damilola Olawuyi, a Lagos-based Geopolitical analyst.

A father is reunited with his two children in Katsina, Nigeria Friday Dec. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Continued violent extremism, banditry, farmer-herder conflict, piracy and attacks on oil infrastructure, as well as a revived secessionist movement – among others – have led to questions about the competence of the president who many analysts say has failed to show leadership after more than five years in office.

“Nigeria is a dynamic country that needs a dynamic and engaged head of state who can rise to challenges, positively influence the tone of public discourse and nudge the toxic and corruption-fuelled political culture in a new direction,” says Page.

As far as credentials show, “Buhari has done none of these things and it is nearly impossible to discern any meaningful governing strategy or notable set of achievements. In other words, the Buhari administration will be remembered for its unrealised potential and almost imperious approach to governing,” Page adds.

Shattered hopes

The unprecedented increase in violent attacks is leading to disillusionment among Nigerians who view the quality of the president’s leadership as “poor”, Olawuyi tells The Africa Report.

“I think we’ve always had some sense of the nature of this country and its leadership. But as the happiest people in the world, we’ve always held on to hope that ‘tomorrow go beta’. I believe it’s that hope that many are losing,” he says.

Page sees President Buhari as appearing to: “by any measure preside and spectate during his time in office, rather than taking an active role in tackling Nigeria’s many socio economic challenges.

He has failed to make progress in three areas he promised to: security, corruption and the economy. He has failed to institutionalise the so-called ‘Buhari Effect’, instead turning a blind eye to corruption and underperformance by his own government.”

In his piece, Nigeria’s New Military Chiefs Face Uphill Battle, Page wrote: “Nigeria is perhaps more insecure now than at any time since its civil war raged in the late 1960s.” He explains how “data illustrates that violent incidents are inexorably trending upward.”

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker shows that more than 80,000 people have died in Nigeria between 2011 and 2020, deaths by Boko Haram and state actors being the highest at about 30,000 deaths.

According to Page, though it is a lot less easy to substantiate with data, “everyday Nigerians feel less secure in their everyday lives than ever before. Even parts of Abuja are less safe than they were five years ago.

A road trip from Abuja to Sokoto—or from Jos to Enugu would require more careful planning and greater risk than in the past. And so many crimes are not reported, especially in rural areas. So there are both objective and subjective indicators that insecurity is on the rise—and that many of the reasons come down to government inaction and malfeasance, rather than external, uncontrollable factors.”

Investments in security, nothing to show for it?

The increase in relentless violent attacks despite the government’s investments in security indicates that “Nigeria is fundamentally under-policed, and is most apparent in the vast spaces in the North. Until that is fixed, the ability to consistently enforce law and order will be severely undermined,” says Joachim McEbong, Senior Analyst at SBM Intelligence.

“Just as important is the untenable economic situation. About 39 million Nigerians, representing 56% of the workforce (a population bigger than Canada), is unemployed or underemployed. In the 15-34 bracket, that rises to 63%. For as long as this persists, there will be a large number of people available for criminal activity,” he adds.

Page thinks that “corruption, wasteful and ineffective spending, election manipulation, the arming and use of political thugs, acts of impunity and human rights abuses, and politicians’ role in exacerbating communal and ethno-religious conflict,” contribute to deteriorating security in Africa’s largest economy.

“Rampant security sector corruption such as the use of security vote, the evolution of conflict economies and the lack of transparency surrounding security spending,” he says is especially a big contributor to rising insecurity in the country. “This is important because it means that those top officials—and even rank and file soldiers and police—actually have powerful financial incentives to allow insecurity to persist. Insecurity and conflict are making many officials rich. Peace is much less profitable,” he adds.

The accusation that the Nigerian security agency could be complicit in the acts of insecurity in the country is not surprising to SBM Intelligence’s McEbong who says in terms of kidnapping for ransom, “the sums involved are huge, with enough to go around.

In our report on the business of kidnapping, $18m-20m was paid as ransom between 2011 and 2020. With that in mind, it would surprise no one if there was widespread complicity in the security services, especially if you consider the conditions under which they serve.”

According to Page, “there is substantial evidence that this is the case,” referring to his earlier accusation of Nigerian security agents’ complicity in perpetration of violent attacks across the country.

“It is no longer plausible for them to argue that they are not responsible for the country’s worsening security situation and have not developed a complex set of arrangements that enable them to benefit financially and politically from it. I think all of us have somewhat of a cognitive bias on this issue: we assume those responsible for combating insecurity are trying their best — and it is widely seen as unpatriotic to question whether this is indeed the case despite overwhelming evidence suggesting, it isn’t,” he says.

Government’s reactions

The Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) to President Buhari said in a written statement that: “All security and intelligence agencies are working together to bring an end to insecurity” with the full support of the president, in reaction to a widely circulated interview with the BBC Hausa service in which Babagana Monguno allegedly implied that funds meant for arms procurement were missing under the former service chiefs.

The government statement said the National Security Adviser “was quoted out of context” and he did not “categorically say” funds were missing. “In the interview, the National Security Adviser clearly informed the BBC reporter that Mr President has provided enormous resources for arms procurement, but the orders were either inadequate or yet to be delivered and that did not imply that the funds were misappropriated under the former service chiefs.”

The NSA also stated that: “Mr President is following up on the procurement process as is usual with contracts relating to military equipment, in most cases the process involves manufacturing, due diligence and tedious negotiations that may  change delivery dates.”

What happens if Buhari fails to curtail insecurity by 2023?

Security challenges are “over-stretching Nigeria’s resources,” says John Campbell, a Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies. Should the president fail to curtail insecurity within the next two years, “the next administration will wish they lost,” says geopolitical analyst Olawuyi.

He adds: “The build-up to the elections will probably see an increase in attacks on politicians by gangs and cult groups pledged to particular individuals, and criminals looking to make some money by kidnapping political office holders for ransom.”

Olawuyi warns of attacks on state party executives, along with an increase of tactics “as bomb makers who honed their skills in the north east and the south will move around offering their services to the highest bidder.”

But he notes that the security situation in 2023 will depend on how the political class will conduct itself during the elections. “If, by some miracle, they behave themselves, allow for credible elections, eschew violence before, during and after the pools and don’t cast needless doubt on valid results, then we might see a continuation of insecurity levels of late 2022 and even the easing of tensions in some places.”

President Buhari’s legacy?

Nigeria’s President Buhari’s record has been “weak” on the fight against insecurity and corruption, says McEbong.

He adds: “Boko Haram still retains the ability to inflict a lot of pain as well, restricting the movements of even the Borno state governor. Corruption is still as bad as it has ever been as well.”

Under Buhari, various low level conflicts have escalated, “especially the clashes between herdsmen and farmers first in the north central, then in the south-west and parts of the South-East. Kidnapping is out of control, along with banditry and the likes,” he says.

In terms of the president’s legacy, Page says it’s been one of “missed opportunities and inaction.” He adds that it’s as if Buhari has been unwilling to “look in the mirror and heed outside advice and constructive criticism.”

“So his legacy is an ugly amalgam of the ruling party’s business-as-usual politics and the listless, inflexible, and outmoded mindset of the man himself.”

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