On May 30, Bloomberg News reported that the Nigerian economy was on its knees and on the verge of recession. A week before that, The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) raised an alarm about the precipitous decrease in crude oil production as a result of militant activity in the Niger Delta. From a daily output of 2.4 million barrels a day in February before the start of renewed militant activity, daily production had plummeted to 1.1 million barrels per day, a whopping 45% decline in output. On May 30, clashes erupted between the army and supporters of Biafran secessionist movements IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) and MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra) during marches by the 2 groups to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the declaration of the defunct Biafran Republic. When it was all over, several marchers lay dead, shot by troops. In February, hundreds of Fulani cattle herders swooped on farming villages in Central Nigeria and decimated the villagers. They then took over farmlands and unleashed cattle to graze on the crops.
The Nigerian economy and the integrity of the state have come under severe stress as a result of the disturbances. There is a foreign exchange shortage caused by crashed oil prices and a contraction in crude oil production. Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves in May 2016 stood at $27 billion, the lowest it has been in a decade. It was $29 billion when Buhari took power in May 2015. Analysts forecast the possible bankruptcy of Nigeria before the end of 2016 if crude oil production, the main foreign exchange earner, continues to decline.
The foreign exchange crunch has caused a significant drop in manufacturing output because producers cannot access the semi finished inputs and raw materials required for production. Companies resorting to the expensive black market for foreign exchange are compelled to pass the increased costs of production to consumers at unaffordable prices. Nigeria’s minuscule middle class reels from currency devaluation and loss of savings. The Central Bank reported inflation at 13% in the first quarter, an increase of several percentage points in less than a year.
There are food shortages because huge swaths of the breadbasket Central Region of Nigeria, pillaged and depopulated by marauding Fulani cattle herders, no longer produce the yams, cassava and various other produce that feed most of the country. The revolution in Nigerian agriculture launched by the Jonathan Administration and certified as having achieved significant progress in efforts to make Nigeria self sufficient in food production, risks retrogression as farmers flee from the relentless onslaught of the herdsmen, who have invaded farmlands in both the Central and Southern Regions of Nigeria.
The biggest threat to the country is the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta where 70% of the revenue of the central government, as well as 90% of its foreign exchange, are earned from. The Niger Delta Avengers, a new organization of militants from the Niger Delta, vowed to cripple the Nigerian economy when it launched attacks on oil installations in February 2016. Three months out, in May, it boasted of accomplishing 50% of its goal after Nigeria’s crude oil exports was cut in half. Sustained attacks could totally shut out production.
The Niger Delta Avengers demand control of the oil on their land and the implementation of the resolutions of a national conference convened by former President Jonathan to address the political cleavages of the state. But Muhammadu Buhari, the incumbent President, has expressed disdain for the national conference and has ordered that its resolutions be consigned to the archives.
Buhari’s critics accuse him of a rigidity in-congruent with the temperament and flexibility required to govern a complex state as Nigeria. They also accuse him of lacking the statecraft essential to uniting the disparate ethnic groups of Nigeria, in perpetual suspicion of one another about just about everything under the Nigerian sun. And his actions since becoming President lend credence to the criticisms. He famously stated in a press conference in Washington DC that he would not be bothered with the sections of the country (the Southeast and the South-south regions ) that did not vote for him. He packed the top echelons of the government bureaucracy with fellow northerners. Except for a few southern officers , the top hierarchy of the military and the cadre of senior commanders were loaded up with northerners.
In 1985, as military head of state, Buhari was tossed out in a palace coup by Major General Ibrahim Babangida, who accused him of a decision making style that ignored the diversity of Nigeria. It is de-javu right now from the standpoint of Buhari’s critics. Redirecting the ship of state from the path it’s on now towards dangerous rocks requires imagination and statesmanship. Implementation of the resolutions of the 2014 national conference could help avert the national disaster that looms should the NDA knock out the economy and precipitate political anarchy and a country breakup. Any other approach by Buhari, especially one that seeks a military solution, will be counterproductive. Buhari can be a Frederick De Klerk who saved his country by allowing its restructuring and a new constitution that was fair to all, or an Al-Bashir of Sudan whose hard-line and brutal tactics lost the south of his country. That southern part of Sudan became the independent nation of South Sudan.