06 Mar

Buhari Grapples With Widening Crises as Nigerian Vote Looms

Islamist militant attacks, gasoline shortages, worsening violence over grazing land, simmering unrest in the southeast — the crises keep mounting for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari less than a year before general elections.

The most recent setback came on March 1 when suspected Boko Haram Islamist militants killed three United Nations aid workers and eight soldiers in an attack in the northeastern town of Rann, about two weeks after they kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls aged 11-19 in the same region. The actions have undermined the government’s claim to have “technically defeated” the group.

“There will be consequences politically; it’s a huge blow to soldier morale,” said Cheta Nwanze, an analyst at Lagos-based SBM Intelligence risk advisory. “It just adds to Buhari’s woes.”

While Buhari, 75, hasn’t said whether he will run for re-election, his ruling All Progressives Congress has backed him to do so, and he remains popular in his political base in the mainly Muslim north.

Yet he spent more than five months in London last year being treated for an undisclosed illness, and the coalition that brought him to power shows signs of fraying.

On Monday, Buhari started a visit to five states that have been gripped by violence in recent months, including Yobe, where the girls were kidnapped, his office said in an emailed statement.

The government’s much-vaunted anti-graft war also suffered a blow when Berlin-based Transparency International’s latest global corruption-perception index released last month showed Nigeria had dropped 12 places under Buhari to 148 out of 172 countries.

In his plus column, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party hasn’t recovered from its loss in 2015 and is in disarray.

While gasoline shortages are causing havoc for motorists, the economy of Africa’s top oil producer is also looking brighter, with the Abuja-based National Bureau of Statistics saying it may expand 2.1 percent this year after growth of 0.8 percent last year and a contraction of 1.6 percent in 2016.

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