Can Buhari Fix Nigeria? – By Richard Dowden

dowden9Muhammadu Buhari, the new president of Nigeria, is starting from point zero. The country has all but come to a sudden halt. Schools, hospitals and the civil service have closed down. Shops have run out of goods. The street markets are empty. Most will not see the inauguration of the new President on TV. Much of Nigeria has been switched off.

The cause lies at the heart of Nigeria’s failure: the oil management mafia. A small number of wealthy Nigerians and a few outsiders control the country’s energy supply. They are military, civil servants, foreign oil companies, politicians or combinations of all them. Their mafias even have names: the Major Marketers Association of Nigeria, the Depot and Petroleum Marketers and the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria.

For years these mobsters – and complicit politicians – have prevented Nigeria having its own oil refinery, making billions importing fuel and receiving a subsidy so that Nigerians can have cheap fuel (much of it is smuggled to neighbouring countries thereby messing up the economies of the region and depriving Nigerians of the real value of their oil). The oil bosses are now on strike, refusing to import fuel until the government gives them 200 billion Naira – about £6.5 billion. The government is offering 159 billion Naira. Until then Nigeria is halted. Will the lights and mics be on for the re-inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari? They may be in Abuja but will Nigerians elsewhere be able to watch it on TV?

I know they say that today’s Buhari is a very different man to the tough disciplined soldier who overthrew an elected but corrupt government in 1983. Then he had corrupt officials locked up and criminals shot on Bar Beach in Lagos. It was a scary time for Nigerians but most now admit they got up an hour earlier and made sure they were “on seat” on time. The streets of Lagos and other cities were suddenly clean and tidy when he ordered Saturday morning clean ups.

Buhari saw the epitome of the corruption of the previous regime to be the Minister of Transport, Umaru Dikko. He fled Nigeria and came to Britain.

At that time an Israeli company was building the Nicon Noga Hilton in Abuja and, as part of that deal, Buhari employed Mossad operatives to find and kidnap Dikko and bring him to justice in Nigeria. In July 1984 the Isrealis found Dikko in London and grabbed him outside his house in Bayswater. They bundled him in to a van, drugged him and put him in a crate accompanied by a doctor. The van drove to Stansted Airport. But police had been alerted and when the crate arrived Dikko was rescued and four Israelis and a Nigerian major were arrested and jailed.

A part of me wishes the old Buhari would re-emerge – just for a couple of weeks. Countrywide swoops could net the Big Men and what might fall out of their pockets if they were turned upside down could replenish the state coffers. If he had a few tried and shot on Bar Beach I would not wave a protest banner outside the Nigerian High Commission. The rape of a rich country which has one of the highest infant death rates in the world – 74 per thousand – is no small crime.

But there is no sign that President Buhari will do anything dramatic. He has had a lifetime to prepare for this job and he has gathered good people around him. His second coming to power in a peaceful and properly conducted election promises clean and better governance. But first he needs to change the prevalent mood of cynical selfishness in Nigeria. It is the opposite of the optimism and communalism that I find abounds in most of the rest of Africa.

So what does Buhari need to do? The immediate priority is energy for the economy. This is essential if the country is not to be held to ransom by the crooks. He must build – or rebuild – the oil refineries, regulate the energy sector and bring in investment and good management. But with the oil price hitting new lows, this is the perfect time to restructure the industry and look elsewhere for alternative energy sources for wealth creation.

Buhari’s vision must be a big one to inspire Nigeria’s billion people – two billion in 2050. A former general, a Muslim from the north, he has a reputation for simplicity of lifestyle and a straightforward management style. National confidence will help people invest and create jobs for a fair and prosperous future. He should be able to reinvigorate the army, demoralised by years of neglect, and working with Cameroon and Niger, destroy Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria.

First, he must reunite Nigeria. The North South divide has never been wider – not least because of the upsurge in militancy from Boko Haram. Nigeria has been steadily devolved in recent years, which is a good thing, but the centre must still hold so that no region is neglected and marginalised – a major cause of ethic and religious tensions.

Second, inspire Nigerians to be proud of their country and less cynical and selfish. I called the Nigeria chapter in my book “˜Look Out World’ because if it got its act together it could change West Africa, Africa and the world. As the biggest economy in Africa it can transform the rest of West Africa through trade.

Third, he must bring good investment and development to Nigeria – potentially one of the richest countries in the world. Nigeria has it all, extensive underused fertile land, almost every mineral known to man under its soil, easy physical access to markets east and west. Above all it has a dynamic, energetic young population hungry for a future. That means investing hugely in education, health and job creation.

Fourth, he must take the lead in the continent. When Thabo Mbeki ruled South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo lwas president of Nigeria they were continent-wide leaders and could make stuff happen anywhere in Africa. Today the continent has no continent-wide leaders. Buhari has the opportunity to step forward into at least a region and hopefully a continent-wide role.

The prize of success is clear for all to see. So is the route. An African friend once (deliberately) misquoted Barak Obama to me: “Yes we can. But we don’t”. Buhari might also change that slogan: “Yes we can – and we will.”

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society.

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9 thoughts on “Can Buhari Fix Nigeria? – By Richard Dowden


  2. During the presidential elelection, I was hard on BUHARI, but I later realised, that he was military president who maintained disciplined and punished the offenders accordingly and by that year, I was working at national oil, 47, Marina, Lagos. However, things became worst when the out going administration came to power in 1999. Anyway, BUHARI, is a military man, highly
    displined with verious administrative acknowledge, God will help and guide him. My only fears, are those embodied currupt individuals in his party{PCP}not to miss direct him. I wish he will and able to bring back Nigeria to her lost glories and emage. Since Nigeria indepence 1960, Nigeria have never had worst, highly currupt government like the out going administration. Population of 170 to 180, 110 people are living well and the rest are negilected. I emplore, President BUHARI to probe the ex-adminidtration ministers, if found guilty, the person should be jailed for many, many year and acquired properties should also be seized, the damage the did, was to much. Even ALMIGHTY GOD will not forgive.

  3. Richard,

    This is the most scholarly writing on Nigeria lately. Let’s put emotions aside. I was not in Nigeria during Buhari’s rule but I can attest to the caliber of the man. His colleague Murtala Muhammad also had the opportunity to clean Nigeria but the Middle-Belt wanting Gowon back deposed a true leader. Hopefully this time around Buhari can make a difference. I hope the people have some patience.

  4. Great article. But I didn’t get this line? It appears to confuse the African population figures with those for Nigeria

    “Buhari’s vision must be a big one to inspire Nigeria’s billion people – two billion in 2050”

  5. Nigeria is not a mistake of the British rather, I always argue, it is the wisdom of the imperialist destined by God to be a laboratory for humanity to see the turbulent rise and fall of Nations. for so many reasons including the fact that this generation of the Nigerian youths 0 30 years below who know nothing by deceit, greed and cruelty of leadership have bought the Buhari story and are determined that WE CAN and WE WILL-

  6. Problems identified in this write up are bull-eye hit, and the proffered solutions seems workable. The question is would the concerned people at the helm of affairs in Nigeria get their acts right and for once govern justly? Modus operandi of a Military dictator and democratically elected president differs.

  7. Good article, I think Buhari has good plan for Nigeria and Nigerians ,Nigerians will have the hope of having a better Nigeria in the future only if Buhari carry the right people along with him, honestly, I see no difference between APC and PDP they are still made up of the same corrupt politicians, that are still the agent of corruption and the beast that is yet to be tamed in the body polity, putting the growth and development of Nigeria to a halt.
    the Niger Delta region is facing major set back, the basic well being of the people are denied off them, their primary source of making a living is destroyed, all in the name of oil exploration.
    I think Buhari is not the issue, but the corruption still in the APC that is now painted white, since the emergence APC as the ruling party there is mass defection into the APC to contaminate vision and to put selfishness in the front line of purpose, I sincerely appreciate our former President Dr Goodluck Jonathan, for his courage and determination despite all the plans to spoil his administration he remain focus, and also the Nigerian citizens for making sure their vote count, I rely commend us, thank you and God bless us real good.

  8. This is a brilliant article. You’ve outlined the key issues that need to be tackled by Buhari and I do agree: exploring alternative sources of energy, and alternative sources of national income too, should be first on the agenda.

  9. Crips, open, clear, direct and explorative! Good work like a good honey!
    The fear is: alleged corrupt Nigerians all sourround Buhari. Those who stole while in PDP form bulk of Buhari backroom staff from Bayelsa to Rivers up north, ‘them plenty’.
    Buhari too has grown withdrawn with compassion of a grand father to those who of his children who err. He doesn’t possess that stubborness and vile maybe hot blood to shoot people in bar beach again.
    He needs our support – he must employ stubborn young people to then do the work for him – give them free hands
    Your figure on Nigeria’s population in 2050 is misleading

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