- After a slow start to his presidency, there are indications that President Muhammadu Buhari will start to take action in September 2015, appointing a cabinet and beginning to make strides in his fight against corruption.
- Contacts within the business community have privately expressed respect for Buhari’s careful deliberation of key issues, including stability in the Delta, regional security issues and the appointment of his cabinet.
- However, a perception of inaction has also served to temper the post-election euphoria harbored by many. The low oil price, the sluggish pace of delivery on electoral promises, and the failure to appoint a cabinet after three months into his tenure has caused frustration among some Nigerian political and economic spectators.
Appointment of Cabinet
Buhari has shown reluctance to appoint a cabinet with haste, fending off lobbying attempts from senior figures within the All Progressives Congress (APC), including rejecting proposed cabinet appointments. When his cabinet is announced—which political sources say is scheduled for September—it will likely feature more technocrats. One such example is the appointment of the former ExxonMobil executive, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, as the new Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). While this surprise choice has been broadly well received, Buhari faces a formidable task in satisfying the personalities and ambitions of those who helped win him the election.
Of Buhari’s main two election pledges, an anti-corruption effort and an improved security situation, progress has been fairly muted. While there have been some reports of questioning, there have been few public announcements and no arrests relating to any high profile corruption cases. That said, sources stressed that there is much progressing behind the scenes. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been reinvigorated with greater freedom to pursue old corruption cases (although is now overwhelmed by the volume of investigations). A major objective for Buhari is to claw back monies stolen or defrauded from the State, though retrieving funds from abroad will be problematic. Appeals have been made to the United States and the UK for assistance and Buhari has—although largely for more geopolitical reasons—made notable advances in repairing the fractious relationship between Nigeria and the United States.
Buhari’s pursuit of those involved in corruption has led some of these targets to actually return funds back to the state in an attempt to avoid conviction, though this is sporadic and politically motivated.
Any future progress in investigating matters that had previously been buried by the old administration will be muddied by the fact that some members of the current administration were embroiled in these past allegations. Thus, any action taken by Buhari in the short-to-medium term will most likely target the “fall guys”—individuals and companies who acted as proxies and money launderers for politically well-connected businessmen and members of the former government. Nevertheless, a gradual change of mind-set in the country is occurring, with attitudes towards “open” corruption hardening.
In a more decisive display of power, Buhari removed the former defence chiefs soon after his inauguration. Perhaps demonstrating his wish to prioritise security issues, Buhari has focused his attention on the insurgency in the northeast of the country, as well as in the Delta, where he cancelled former militant Government Ekpomupolo’s (known as Tompolo) lucrative security contract. Buhari will have many more occasions to exercise his power, particularly given that criminal networks associated with bunkering are stealing more crude oil than ever before. For a region mistrustful of a northern president (as reminded by the voting pattern at the elections) this presents a major issue for Buhari in the medium term.
Many of our sources expressed the sentiment that international analysts continue to underestimate the size and potential growth of the Nigerian market. Businessmen largely trust that a Buhari-led government will enable a more stable commercial environment that will encourage economic diversification. Efforts to stabilize the currency have already been put in place—the Central Bank has banned the deposits of U.S. dollars into domiciliary accounts.
The last two months have seen a marked decrease in rolling electricity blackouts across the country. Whilst some view this as direct evidence of Buhari’s efforts at breaking up the corrupt vested interests of the diesel and generator importers, others attribute this to the wet season—which in turn means the country’s four hydroelectric power stations are generating at full capacity.
Political and commercial sources were in agreement that major announcements and tangible progress in line with Buhari’s pledged goals will start to surface in September. Until these materialize, a mixture of cautious optimism and uncertainty dominate the Nigerian political and economic landscape.