Nigerian leader faces monumental struggle
LAGOS — When Nigeria’s new first lady Aisha Buhari appeared at her husband’s inauguration wearing what looked like a $50 000 (about M607 000) Cartier watch, scores took to the internet to voice their surprise.
Was it a gift or did she pay for it herself? Hadn’t President Muhammadu Buhari been elected for his frugal, clean image and promise to clean up Nigeria’s dirty politics?
Others were indifferent, countering that $50 000 was peanuts compared to the billions squandered every year by government mismanagement or simply stolen through rampant corruption.
“The question really is the scale of the greed, not the fact of corruption, which is everywhere,” Adewale Maja-pearce, a Lagosbased writer, told AFP.
The money lost to corruption is mindboggling in a country where the majority of the country’s 173 million people live on less than $2 a day, particularly in the notoriously murky oil sector.
In September 2011, Bukola Saraki, who is now Senate leader, publicly exposed what he called “wastage, lack of transparency, corruption and malpractice” in the fuel subsidy programme.
Nigeria is one of the world’s biggest producers of crude but a lack of working refineries means oil has to be exported and then its products imported at international market prices.
To keep prices low for consumers, the government sells fuel on the streets at subsidised prices and makes up for the high amounts spent by importers by paying them the difference.
The system is wide open to fraud: some importers rent empty vessels, pay officials to say they have fuel on board and pocket the subsidies.
How many government accounts? Revenue Service)... they do not know how many accounts the government has,” he told AFP in an interview this month.
One of Buhari’s biggest challenges will be to change mindsets, with Nigeria a country where money talks, particularly when it comes to politics, power and influence.
“Will he have the political will to actually deal with the people who are in the same party who contributed to getting him elected?” asked Idayat Hassan, from Nigeria’s Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
As if to answer the question, Buhari has yet to appoint a cabinet three weeks after coming to power.
Buhari said government departments were being audited to try to establish what state they were left in by the previous administration.
“I want to get ministers after at least I have seen this report, so that I don’t have to appoint a minister today and sack him next week,” Buhari added.
What about Buhari?
People queue with jerrycans to buy fuel last month in lagos.