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Is Buhari Leaving Nigeria a ‘Better Place’? Not Really

Is Buhari Leaving Nigeria a ‘Better Place’? Not Really
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Video producer Nik Yarst

Muhammadu Buhari

Muhammadu Buhari

President of Nigeria

“We leave Nigeria in a far better place than we found it.”


On June 21, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told Bloomberg News that Nigeria has progressed on all levels during his presidency.

Buhari’s statements came near the end of his second and final term, with the country set to elect a new leader next year.

Buhari touted his administration’s efforts to fight corruption and eliminate citizen fears of reporting economic mismanagement. He claimed to improve the economy, accelerate development and take back areas of the country controlled by extremists.

“We leave Nigeria in a far better place than we found it,” Buhari said.

That is misleading. Although Buhari initiated anti-corruption and counter-insurgency actions and worked to better the economy, Nigeria's long-festering problems remain.

Fighting corruption was a pillar of Buhari’s 2015 presidential campaign. But a 2019 United Nations survey blamed ongoing corruption for continued poverty and blocking economic development.

While citing a modest reduction in bribery, the survey still found that 30 percent of Nigerians had paid at least one bribe in the prior year, overwhelmingly to public officials. And one in five were offered a bribe for their vote in the previous election, the survey found.

Nigeria ranked 154 out of 180 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index in 2021, its worst ranking during Buhari’s tenure.

In 2021, the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) reported that Buhari did champion anti-corruption programs and empower anti-corruption agencies, allowing the prosecution of some high-level officials.

But the center said that wasn’t enough, blaming “an enforcement-based strategy rather than pushing for deeper political and institutional reforms.”

“He has turned a blind eye to allegations of corruption directed toward his inner circle and prominent ruling party figures, and his cabinet includes several individuals tainted by accusations of corruption,” the CDD said. “Buhari’s government has also increased the use of corruption-prone slush funds known as ‘security votes’.”

The 2021 Pandora Papers leak of secret offshore financial documents revealed that more than 100 Nigerian officials and business owners poured money into buying properties in London using secret offshore accounts.

Some of the named officials in the documents officials in Buhari’s government, including Kebbi State Gov. Atiku Bagudu and Labour Party member Peter Obi, who will be running in Nigeria’s 2023 presidential elections. But the government did little to follow up on the leaked documents, the Daily Trust Nigeria news reported.

In response Obi declared that these accusations are false and that he “did not break any law.” Bagudu'a lawyer said his client's dealings were lawful.

Inflation in Nigeria reached 18% in May, while in 2015, the year Buhari was elected, inflation hovered at around 9%. Food inflation rose to 20% in May, partly due to the Russian war on Ukraine, which has helped drive up the prices of bread and cereals.

According to World Bank, four in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line and lack access to education and basic infrastructure. The World Poverty Clock estimates that 39% of Nigerians – some 83 million – live in extreme poverty.

Developing the country’s infrastructure has been a pillar of Buhari’s administration. However, funding remains a major challenge, especially following the oil price crash caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. About 9 percent of Nigeria’s economy depends on oil. The country’s total public debt grew to $93 billion in 2021, up 18% from 2020, Reuters reported.

Nigeria experienced two recessions under Buhari’s leadership. The first came in 2016, when oil prices fell, according to the Abuja news outlet Premium Times, which said Buhari’s government failed to “initiate an economic roadmap and constitute a cabinet for the economic recession.”

Since 2011, Boko Haram, Africa’s largest Islamist militant group, has carried out attacks in Nigeria. In 2015, the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terror group.

Buhari vowed to combat the expansion of extremist groups. Boko Haram initially suffered a series of defeats and today is mostly contained in some villages and pockets in Nigeria’s Muslim north.

But the security threats in Nigeria have not subsided. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program, more than 2,000 people were killed between January and March 2022, while 1,484 were abducted.

Local bandits have continued to kill and abduct people in Nigeria since 2017, with kidnapping for ransom becoming a lucrative business.

“These assailants have attacked rural dwellers, destroyed their farmlands and in many cases only allow them to the farm after they have paid protection fees. They have also targeted travelers across the region,” the Premium Times reported.

Read Buhari's full interview with Bloomberg News here.