The president-elect faces enormous tasks, starting with halting corruption
MUHAMMADU BUHARI is fast learning what excessive expectations can do. The former military ruler, who last month handsomely beat the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, in a presidential election, promised frustrated Nigerians that he would bring change once he is inaugurated on May 29th. Many will take him at his word. “Most people are expecting a new Nigeria,” says Ahmad Lamido, a civil servant in the northern city of Kano, celebrating the first-ever victory of a Nigerian opposition party at the ballot box. “The only person who can bring this is Buhari.”
Precisely how his All Progressives Congress (APC) will reshape the country, as oil prices and government revenues slump, is still unclear. The APC’s main campaign promises were to beat an insurgency in the north-east that has claimed at least 15,000 lives, and to end corruption
Mr Buhari will start by trying to deal with mismanagement in the army. Embezzlement by generals is one reason why, despite a huge budget, the army lacks the equipment to defeat the jihadists of Boko Haram. Some generals’ heads may roll.
Nonetheless, Mr Buhari’s new lot will look into the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Investigation into opaque operating contracts is the starting place, reckons Thomas Hansen of Control Risks, a London-based consultancy. The state-owned oil giant signed operating contracts worth billions of dollars without bidding during Mr Jonathan’s presidency. Such “strategic partnership agreements” have been a way to steal cash from federal coffers, says Lamido Sanusi, a former central-bank governor sacked by Mr Jonathan for alleging that $20 billion in oil revenue had vanished.
Opaque “swap” deals, whereby crude exports are exchanged for refined petroleum brought back into the country, may also come under scrutiny. In 2014, monitors from the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, set up in 2004 to eye deals in oil, gas and mining, said the country could be losing $8 billion a year thanks to agreements between the NNPC and various traders.
At the same time, Mr Buhari must keep the current fragile peace in the oil-producing Niger delta. He is expected to axe an expensive deal which, since 2009, has paid former militants to stop them blowing up oil installations and kidnapping workers. “Nigeria cannot afford the amnesty to the degree it did in the past,” says a Western diplomat in Abuja, the capital. The new government may come up with another deal instead. But former generals who were enriched on Mr Jonathan’s watch could stoke violence if they feel aggrieved. So could the delta’s desperately poor young men. On April 3rd a major gas pipeline was blown up.
Yet so far so quiet in the region—though some former fighters said they would go to war if Mr Jonathan lost. Investors sound reassured by the smooth transition (about 800 people died after the last election). The stockmarket has had its longest rally in two years. Mr Jonathan deserves credit for accepting defeat graciously, which has helped stave off the threat of mass violence. He may, in any case, be happy to see the back of his job. At an Easter church service, he likened his years as a state governor and then as vice-president and president to living “in a cage”. Now it is Mr Buhari who is trapped, with Nigerians watching his every move. Little wonder the new president wants to lower expectations. “How,” he asks, “can I promise miracles?”