One year after he was sworn as in as the president of Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, military dictator turned democrat Muhammadu Buhari has achieved two major things; he seems to have kept terrorist group Boko Haram at bay, and he has put a vast anti-graft campaign in motion. But for his seeming ineptitude when it comes to economic matters and the renewed militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta, it is hard to say President Buhari has had a good first year.
But the presidency says he has done well, itemizing his achievements in a list of 75, categorized under security, corruption, environment, national image, economy, judiciary and power. Most Nigerians will agree that the president has recorded good success in the fight against corruption. The soon-to-begin cleanup of Ogoni land scores him an ‘A’ in environment, considering the fact that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report for the clean-up has been out since 2010. Judiciary, Power? Maybe not. Even the gains he made in edging out Boko Haram is being lost to the rampaging herdsmen invading communities across the country. New militant group, Niger Delta Avengers is also making the oil-rich region unsafe, with many expatriate workers in the oil and gas industry said to be requesting to be posted out of Nigeria. The activities of the militant group currently costs Nigeria about 800,000 barrels of crude per day, potentially worsening Nigeria’s economic crisis.
Nigeria recorded a GDP of -0.36 percent in the first quarter of 2016, as the the central bank’s policies continued to discourage investments. The country seems doomed for worse in the second quarter as the activity of the militants will take its toll. Nigeria still depends on oil for more than 70 percent of government revenues.
But the president is learning his economic lessons the hard way. Most of the economic policies he backed have backfired. Nigeria tried to shield consumers and businesses from inflation by propping up the naira and keeping imports cheap. It didn’t work. Inflation hit a nearly six-year high last month. He had also promised not to remove subsidy on oil but he did earlier in May, with the price of gas rising by over 60 percent. The masses he claimed to be protecting by backing anachronistic ideologies and policies are groaning under the pains of inflation but they still love their president; not many Nigerians joined a strike aimed at protesting against the hike in the price of petrol.
President Buhari is no genius when it comes to economic matters and he has not hidden this. But he wants to be convinced about every economic decision, which is not a bad thing. His objection to the devaluation of the naira (which is the wise economic move as the falling price of oil has hit exchange receipts) has been because no one has been able to convince him that devaluation has any positive impact on the economy. But a correctly valued currency would make foreign investors more confident about releasing their money. Sadly, the impact of this will never be felt in a country with structural deficiencies. If there is anyone to fix these deficiencies, it is a president that enjoys the goodwill of the people. First thing Buhari needs to do is put policies in place to encourage import substitution and export promotion; the economy would be better off that way.
Considering the current economic climate and the decay President Buhari met in the system, it may be harsh to bash him about his first year performance but it will also be wrong to say he has done well. Unctuous praises for the president will not help him. More so, a report card with economic indicators is the best one to use for a leader; Buhari does not have a good one. However, there are three years left on his term; and hopes are high he would deliver. Time will tell.