Letter from Africa: What has gone wrong for Nigeria’s President Buhari?


Muhammadu Buhari’s second coming as Nigeria’s president one-and-a-half years ago was greeted with a lot of hope and excitement.

There was a collective sigh of relief when he took over from the lacklustre Goodluck Jonathan, who symbolised everything that was wrong with the then ruling party.

Eighteen months down the line, many Nigerians are openly asking whether the 73-year-old president has what it takes to lead Africa’s most populous state, given the enormous challenges that the country faces.

Celebrations in Kano after Mr Buhari's victory

While the president has gained some kudos for his efforts to tackle corruption and for the fact that the military now has the upper hand in the fight against militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which at one point held large swathes of territory in the north-east, little success has been recorded in other areas.As President Buhari has said, he had the misfortune of coming to power at a time when very low oil prices meant the import-dependent and oil revenue-reliant country was paying a high price for its expensive habits.

Nigerian leaders, and especially Mr Jonathan’s government, never planned for the vagaries of oil prices, which have plummeted from more than $100 (£79) a barrel in 2014 to just above $30.

Mindless corruption ensured that the extra income was carelessly spent and even money allocated for purchasing arms to counter Boko Haram’s insurgency was allegedly pocketed by individuals or diverted to political campaigns.

Mr Buhari admitted he felt like absconding from the job when he found how bad the situation was when he took office in May 2015.

Having won the election on his fourth attempt, Nigerians expected the former military ruler to have an idea or two about how to fix the country’s main challenges: Poor infrastructure, lack of electricity and high unemployment.