The newly elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, will be visiting President Obama at the White House today. Buhari deserves this honor because his election may very well mark the start of a favorable new era in Nigerian politics and economic development.
Nigeria’s presidential election this past May has received high praise for transparency and honesty, in sharp contrast to all of the previous rigged elections since civilian rule was re-established in 1999. The election was conducted so efficiently that the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat even before the final ballots were counted.
President Buhari is a retired army general who is known for his modest lifestyle. He lives on his military pension in a simple middle class home without luxury. This is all the more astounding because he was the military ruler of Nigeria from January 1984 to August 1985 when he could have enriched himself as all the other military heads of state had done. During his short time as President, he made a strong effort to combat corruption.
President Buhari has just been swept into power on a wave of change demanded by the voters who are tired of seeing high oil revenues disappearing into the pockets of special interests, while poverty rates in the rural areas continue to increase. The former ruling, and very corrupt, PDP party is now in the minority. Buhari’s APC party has captured most of the state governorships and holds a majority in both houses of parliament.
Buhari now has five years to clean up government revenues and install modern management that can solve the nation’s major problems. He is off to a good start with the dismissal of the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the state entity that collects all of the oil revenue. His challenges are enormous. I hope that President Obama will offer as much support as possible.
Buhari’s most immediate challenge is the Islamic insurgency in northeastern Nigeria known as Boko Haram. This group has pledged allegiance to the “Islamic State”, and has turned the northeast region into a killing field. The previous administration was unable to cope with this threat because the security services have been suffering from low pay, low morale and high corruption. Buhari has to reform the services and eliminate corruption within them. The provision of regular and higher pay to the ranks would be a good place to start.
The second serious challenge is the major electric power deficit. Nigeria produces a miserable 4,000 MW of electricity for a country of 150,000 million people. The country is running on expensive diesel fuel that makes industry non-competitive and deprives over 70% of the population of electricity. None of the previous governments since 1999 has been able to solve this problem.
Thirdly, Nigeria can become the agricultural powerhouse it used to be in the 1950s and 1960s. With the discovery of oil, and the infestation of corruption that came with oil, rural infrastructure was neglected and agriculture declined to dangerous low levels.
President Obama’s Africa policies are right in line with President Buhari’s immediate needs.
Military cooperation via the US Africa Command in the fight against Boko Haram has already started. This can be strengthened as the Nigerian military begins to reform and shape up.
The Obama administration’s “Power Africa” project that was featured at the August 2014 White House Africa Summit should be able to encourage US private companies to invest in power generation in Nigeria while assisting in the rationalization of the decrepit power sector.
In agriculture, the Administration’s “Feed the Future” project is designed to bring modern methods to rural Africa in order to increase yields, farm incomes, and diminish food imports to the cities. Nigerian farmers are already starting to produce greater volumes of cassava and rice. US farm technology could bring back Nigeria’s former agricultural greatness.
My Nigerian friends are telling me that Nigerian traffic police have stopped asking for handouts because they know that President Buhari is watching. If Buhari can succeed in channeling Nigeria’s oil resources into productive enterprises, especially vital infrastructure, education and agriculture, his nation can achieve the greatness that was predicted at the time of independence in 1960.
The United States is with you, President Muhammadu Buhari. Your five-year term begins with our warmest best wishes.