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Africa in focus

In case you missed it: Brookings scholars discuss issues facing new Nigerian President Buhari

Just last week, President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated president of Nigeria as part of a historically peaceful and democratic transition of power in sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous nation. And this new president has his work cut out for him: Slowing growth, low oil prices, and subsequent declining government revenues are threatening its economy, which is the biggest in the region. In addition, the Boko Haram insurgency still rages on in the north, though Nigeria and its neighbors have made recent strides in fighting the group.

To address these challenges, Buhari has already offered a blueprint for his administration: Shortly before his inauguration, the president released his 100-day plan, what he calls “My Covenant with Nigerians,” in which he states commitments to supporting agriculture, stamping out corruption, tackling insecurity, and boosting health, among many other objectives.

But to what extent is his plan achievable? What are realistic expectations for the Buhari administration? What are the biggest obstacles in his way? And, as Brookings Africa Growth Initiative Nonresident Senior Fellow Richard Joseph put it, with this peaceful transition, has Nigeria’s hope for democratic development been renewed?

On June 8, the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) is convening a panel of Nigeria experts to discuss these (and other) opportunities and challenges Buhari is facing at a public Brookings event entitled, “Nigeria in transition: Prospects and challenges for the new government.”

In the build up to this event, AGI scholars and colleagues have produced a number of briefs on the economic, political, and security developments in Nigeria over the past few years. Here is a recap of some of this work:

 

Oil and Nigeria’s economy

 

Nigeria’s economy depends very heavily on oil: In fact, crude oil accounts for over 70 percent of its government revenue—so the past year’s major decline in oil prices has hit Nigeria hard. In a piece on the consequences of falling oil prices on the continent, Amadou Sy discusses how these dropping commodity prices caused the naira to depreciate, making it even harder for the country to service its debt. In times of low prices, many experts, like AGI’s Nonresident Senior Fellow Vera Songwe, recommend that policymakers take advantage of the opportunity and remove fuel subsidies. Nigeria’s subsidy system, along with strikes by fuel marketers and unions, has also been blamed for the oil scarcities and widespread power outages just last week. These aren’t the only problems related to oil: Inquiries over accusations of embezzlement of $20 billion from crude oil sales have been taking place for months.

 

Nigeria’s political transitions

 

2015 saw Nigeria’s most closely fought election in its history. Nigerian politics are particularly complex, as AGI’s Foresight Africa 2015 explored: Religious, geographic, ethnic, and security issues, among others, create a multifaceted political landscape. The recent emergence of Buhari’s new political party—the All Progressives Congress—through a merger of disparate parties created a true competitor for the ruling People’s Democratic Party. According to AGI Senior Fellow Mwangi Kimenyi, the results of this election were a “surprise” to many—and not necessarily in that Buhari was the winner. For example, unlike many Nigerian watchers’ predictions, there were relatively few incidences of violence, even though the six-week postponement of the elections made many nervous. Also, and, perhaps most importantly, Buhari’s rival, President Goodluck Jonathan, defied recent trends in the region and quickly respected the election results and agreed to step down.

For more information not only on Nigeria’s historical political transitions since the end of colonialism, but those of other sub-Saharan countries too, check out AGI’s new interactive the “African Leadership Transitions Tracker.”

 

Security and Boko Haram

 

President Buhari, a former military leader, still faces an uphill battle in the fight against Boko Haram, whose frequent attacks remain a consistent threat to peace and security, especially in the north of the country. While Nigeria and its neighbors Cameroon, Niger, Benin, and Chad have made in-roads into Boko Haram territory, the group continues to perpetuate kidnappings, bombings, and other violence.

In the wake of the kidnapping of the Chibok girls in 2014 and as Western forces and actors contemplated heightened involvement in the region, Richard Joseph highlighted key issues for policymakers as they consider their choices and strategies. At the same time, and as part of a wider AGI study on the impact of conflict on agriculture in West Africa, AGI posted a series of blogs examining the origins, goals, and potential trajectory of the continuing conflict with Boko Haram:

For more on these issues and an expert discussion on if and how President Buhari will face them, join us at the Brookings Institution on June 8 for “Nigeria in transition: Prospects and challenges for the new government.”

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