Nigeria looks to Buhari to fight corruption, stabilise the economy

Saturday May 30 2015

Muhammadu Buhari became Nigeria’s new head of state on Friday in a ceremony mixing military pomp with tradition after he won the first opposition victory over a sitting president in the nation’s history.

Friday was declared a public holiday and tricycle and commercial motorcycle riders had a field day at the major markets of Garki and Wuse in Abuja, blocking the roads and wielding brooms, the symbol of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Buhari’s political party.

But many Nigerians could not follow the live coverage of the ceremony on television because of a major power shortage.

The oath of office was administered by the Chief Justice of the Federation Justice Mahmud Mohammed to the president-elect and his deputy Prof Yemi Osinbajo at the Eagles Square in Abuja.

Prof Osinbajo took the oath ahead of Buhari in the presence of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, past heads of state and government and invited dignitaries.

In the grandstands were African heads of state, including South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, as well as foreign dignitaries such as US Secretary of State John Kerry.


The Eagle Square came alive early with the sound of traditional music and dancing, as armed forces in ceremonial dress stood to attention and palm trees and international flags swayed in the breeze.

Bola Tinubu, founder and head of APC, described the inauguration as “a turning point in our national direction and the reclamation of our best destiny.”

President Buhari, who early in the week dropped his military title of major-general, ran unsuccessfully for president in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections. In December 2014, he was voted in as the president.

His victory marked the first time in Nigeria’s history that an incumbent president peacefully transferred power to a winning leader of the opposition.

Born in Daura in Katsina State in the northwest in 1942, President Buhari was head of state of Nigeria from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985, after taking power in a coup d’etat.

Buhari on Thursday formally received the handover notes from President Goodluck Jonathan at the council chamber of the presidential villa and was conducted around the seat of power along with his vice-president-elect.

He said at the occasion that president Jonathan had changed the course of Nigeria’s political history for good, because of conducting free and fair elections.

The new president maintained that Jonathan’s singular act of conceding defeat had not only earned him the respect of Nigerians, but also that of world leaders.

President Buhari has described himself as a “converted democrat” and vowed to lead an administration committed to the needs of Nigeria’s 173 million people by cracking down on the scourge of corruption.

The 72-year-old president takes charge as Nigeria faces crises on several fronts, from severe economic turmoil to Boko Haram’s still-raging Islamist insurgency
But analysts said his first task may be managing the expectations of Africa’s most populous nation, which has struggled for decades with woeful infrastructure, crippling unemployment and widespread unrest.

“The handover... represents a significant milestone in the democratic development of Nigeria,” said Clement Nwankwo, an activist who fought against military ruled.
Civilian rule was restored in 1999 but the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has held power at the federal level for the last 16 years, at times appearing intent on staying on at any cost.

Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer and leading economy, deriving more than 70 per cent of government revenue from crude sales.

Plunging oil prices have caused a cash crunch that has left thousands of civil servants unpaid and pushed the naira currency to historic lows.

Mr Buhari and his All Progressives Congress Party have pledged sweeping change, particularly in job creation, electricity supply and insecurity.

But with the public coffers in tatters, his ability to deliver on campaign promises may be limited in the short term.

READ: Incoming President Buhari has to deal with 40 years of arrested development

“We are well aware of the challenges pitted against our wellbeing. Insecurity, economic decline and corruption, we must fight and fight as if we are going to war not a carnival,” said Mr Tinubu.

Research and investment firm Renaissance Capital said Mr Buhari’s government would be “substantially resource-constrained” and his biggest challenge would be managing high expectations.

President Buhari won the support of voters largely through his tough stance against corruption. His brief tenure in the 1980s is remembered as a time when bribery and graft were forbidden.

He said his administration would have zero tolerance for corruption but experts warn that maintaining his fragile coalition could involve working with some politicians who have a mixed past.

Buhari is from Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north and enjoys massive support in the region.

But he almost certainly would have lost without the backing of partners from the predominately Christian south, including ex-PDP heavyweights who have been linked to graft.

Victims of Boko Haram’s brutal insurgency in the northeast have voiced hope that the president will do more than president Jonathan in tackling the uprising.

Gains have been made since February in an offensive backed by neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger but violence persists and sustained pressure is required to defeat the resilient Islamists.

Containing unrest in the southern, oil-producing Niger Delta may prove to be just as tough a problem.

The delta is former President Jonathan’s home region and some former militants who fought for a fairer share of oil revenues in the 2000s had threatened to resume violence if their native son was defeated.

A 2009 government amnesty programme that saw oil rebels swap guns for regular cash stipends has significantly reduced unrest but the scheme expires this year.

Cancelling the amnesty programme risked “plunging Nigeria’s oil-producing region back into an armed insurgency”, said analyst Malte Liewerscheidt at the Verisk Maplecroft consultancy group.