HAS Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari’s second coming run out of steam?
Not completely yet, but this time last year, shortly after his election, sky looked like the limit for the 73-year-old retired major-general who ruled from 1983 to 1985.
He had for a reputation for everything his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan lacked: He had sterling anti-corruption credentials; he was a no-nonsense politician returning to power in a country he himself describes as unruly; he was an iron-fisted former military dictator whom many believed would crack the skulls of the jidahist Boko Haram who were laying the northern part of the country to waste.
Some of the changes were immediate. The crackdown on corruption saw several officials from the previous regime arrested, and hundreds of millions of stolen petro dollars returned.
Buhari also reorganised the military, and stemmed the rot that had seen billions of dollars meant to buy military equipment plundered, leaving the army poorly equipped, and frequently being put to flight by Boko Haram.
BOKO HARAM ON THE ROPES
He has also better managed international cooperation in the fight against the militants, and undoubtedly Boko Haram is on the ropes. At this rate, it will be all but comprehensively defeated come year’s end.
However, from sports, politics, and business, second comings, while they might often be successful, are rarely spectacular. Returning incumbents like Buhari in politics, or Michael Schumacher in Formula One, find it hard to unlearn the lessons of the past, which often are no longer effective in a new changed environment.
Also, the high expectations that come with their return, almost breeds disappointment. And, they also need a fickle ingredient to succeed – luck.
However, Buhari was deserted by good luck.
He took over an economy already reeling from the collapse of oil, which accounts for more than 90% of the value of Nigerian exports, and whose revenues fund at least 70% of the government’s budget.
To compound matters, with inflation rising, oil output is falling sharply as militants in the Niger Delta oil-producing region, who had been bought off by the Jonathan administration and stopped their rebellion, have since February been attacking pipelines again.
The economy of the West African giant, also Africa’s largest, will probably shrink 1.8% this year, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday.
An old-style nationalist, Buhari had proudly resisted a devaluation of the Nigerian currency, the naira. But with an acute shortage and the naira being pummelled in the black market, Buhari blinked.
The currency fell to a record low on Friday, weakening to beyond 300 to the dollar for the first time.
The central bank on June 20 ended a 16-month peg that had confined the naira to a range of 197-199. It dropped 20% on the first day of trading without the controls.
With these challenges, Buhari is thumping his chest less and cautious about promising Nigeria heaven.
The very fact that he is a leader constrained by democracy, and not a military dictator, has curtailed his ability to force through his way.
In addition, the first time he was president, the population of Nigeria was 74 million. Today it is projected to be 180 million.
In the early 1980s, the world hadn’t yet been swept by globalisation. That has changed dramatically, and Buhari has found out at a high price that as a president he can no longer talk down the currency and it cows. Money managers in far off western finance capitals have more power over it than him.
And though disciplined and abstemious, at 73 Buhari is no longer 41, the age at which he was kicked out of power in 1985.
He is a “9am to 5pm kind of guy”, observers say, in a world where leaders who don’t stay up late burning midnight oil rarely find success.
Buhari, however, is displaying the kind of pragmatism and flexibility that the old version wasn’t known for.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a militant group in the oil-rich region, for example, said it held preliminary talks with Nigeria’s government.
His government is also committed to cutting the sacred cow of Nigerian politics, the fuel subsidy.
If Buhari can choose one fight – against corruption – and stick with it, fortune could come his way.
Restoring confidence in government and reducing waste and theft, are about enough to lift Nigeria high again.