Baba go slow, or Baba deep clean? Does the policy-light start to Buhari's presidency suggest that he's "reforming the unreformable" or just dodging political difficulties?

Author:Schneider, James
Position:Nigeria - Cover story

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) won historic elections in March and April this year with a simple message of change. Nigeria was in a tight spot--oil prices had crashed, the electoral cycle had brought much business to a standstill, corruption remained a constant, and, despite recent successes against the militants, Boko Haram remained a serious security threat. The electorate overwhelmingly decided that the APC's new broom (the party's logo) was needed.

What form this change would take and how deep the clean would be was unclear. Buhari's campaign was slick, with consistent messaging. His head of policy, the cerebral former governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, produced an ambitious manifesto, presenting the APC as a programmatic social democratic party. In election rallies and private briefings, APC bigwigs discussed the growth of a welfare state, development of the power sector, substantial reforms of the oil and gas sector, and plugging the leakages--or structural theft and corruption--that holds Nigeria back.

Policies, Mr President?

In the campaign, the APC suggested that Buhari's administration would be policy focused, with the president setting the direction but with influential ministers charged with accomplishing key objectives. Buhari would be a chairperson, rather than CEO president, several well-placed analysts suggested.

Four months into his administration, how wrong these projections seem. By the time of going to press, the president has still not appointed a cabinet of ministers. He says he will do so at the end of September.

Despite claims by the presidency and his supporters, not having any ministers for the first four months of an administration is not normal. It isn't what partners hoped and expected. Buhari has at his disposal some highly qualified politicians and technocrats that could have made up--and could yet make up--his core team. In the critical areas of fiscal policy, infrastructure development, welfare and service provisioning, and the exchange rate, much less than expected has begun.

When Buhari was elected, the naira had been on the slide since the price of oil started to drop dramatically in October 2014. The currency weakened from 165 to 199 to the dollar on the official exchange. When Buhari ruled Nigeria in the 1980s, he railed against IMF demands to devalue the currency and has consistently argued that devaluation in Nigeria would be bad for the economy. Nigeria's...

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