One month after taking office, Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari, has not yet named a Cabinet to help him cope with this country’s firestorm of troubles.
The petroleum-driven economy is in crisis with a months-long fuel shortage, the naira currency is falling, tens of thousands of state civil servants have been unpaid for months and northeast Nigeria continues to be plagued by violence from Islamic extremists.
In the latest blow to Africa’s largest economy, last month a government body revealed that more than $20bn in oil revenue is missing, and the excess crude account – the government’s rainy day savings fund – has shrunk from $4.1bn in November to $2bn now.
Buhari promptly fired the entire board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp, and he’s promised to recover stolen state funds.
The president’s supporters say Buhari’s reputation as an anti-corruption crusader is helping spur a needed culture change in Nigeria.
Buhari earned his corruption-fighting bona fides as Nigeria’s military dictator in the 1980s when he arrested many corrupt politicians and had them tried at military tribunals that sentenced some to life imprisonment. He was elected in March on promises to curb endemic corruption, halt a five-year-old Islamic uprising in the northeast and rescue an economy battered by graft and a halving of the price for oil, the commodity that provides about 80% of government revenue.
But the coalition of parties that helped him become the first person to beat a sitting president in Nigeria already seems to be falling apart. Despite the fact that the coalition holds the largest number of seats in both houses of Parliament, rogue members ignored the party list for chosen legislative leaders. They even elected a member of the party of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan as speaker.
Nigerians were mortified recently by the sight of legislators brawling over the mace, the speaker’s symbol of authority in the House of Assembly, with one legislator throwing a chair across the chamber.
The furore came as civil society groups demanded that the government lower the salaries and allowances that make Nigerian lawmakers among the highest paid in the world – estimated at nearly $200 000 a year according to a 2013 survey by The Economist magazine.
Buhari has said he will cut the number of Cabinet ministers and ministries to help lower costs of government, and there is speculation he will personally take charge of the petroleum portfolio.
Corruption is not the only problem focusing the new president’s attention. Buhari is waging war on Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. The Islamic uprising has killed more than 13 000 people and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes.
In a sign he is making the fight against Boko Haram a top priority, Buhari won agreement from allies for a Nigerian general to take over command of a multinational force, and he ordered Nigeria’s military to move its war command centre from the capital, Abuja, in central Nigeria, to the northeastern city Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram.
Buhari has brushed aside criticism of his otherwise slow pace, saying he wants to ensure his Cabinet is untainted by the corruption that keeps two-thirds of the nation’s 170 million people living in poverty, and the world’s No. 7 petroleum producer bedevilled by fuel and power shortages.
“I urge you all to ensure that we surmount these enormous challenges facing us as a country by working to support economic policies, which the government will soon unveil,” Buhari told the National Economic Council last week.
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