As the biggest African economy gets ready to have the most contested elections in history, Boko Haram’s unprecedented atrocities have become President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration biggest problem. Indeed, the terrorist group that controls a large part of Nigeria’s northeast region has cost the incumbent president a decrease in his acceptance rate. Jonathan’s adversary’s, General Mahammadu Buhari, has capitalized on his strong man reputation to boost his popularity among voters who want a fast solution for the country’s security crises. To Jonathan’s bad luck, Boko Haram’s attack might just eclipse his administration’s achievements and cost him his reelection in what has become essentially a one-issue campaign.
Jonathan was elected in 2011 amid high expectations to change the course of this resource-rich nation, yet harshly hit by poverty and underdevelopment. Seen more as an administrator and technocrat than a leader, he was selected by President Obasanjo as vice-president on the 2007 presidential ticket. Few people saw him as a potential presidential candidate but the unexpected death of Obasanjo’s propelled him to the highest office in the land. Jonathan’s humble background and his image as a self-made man won him the sympathy of many voters. Notwithstanding Jonathan’s popularity, the profound religious differences between the north and the south triggered riots and post-electoral violence.
Jonathan laid his bet on a policy package aimed at transforming Nigeria from the ground up. Focusing on a series of structural reforms targeting the country’s economy through a 5-year development plan, Jonathan’s ambitious Nigerian Transformation Agenda was driven by a team of world-class technocrats, including renowned economist Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Finance Minister. The policy package aimed to tackle a series of areas and boost the development of Africa’s most populous nation with a special emphasis on the diversification of the economy.
While Nigeria is one of the world’s top oil producers, the hydrocarbons sector barely provides employment for the country’s fast-growing and young population. Agriculture contributes over 35% of Nigeria’s GDP and the sector is the country’s largest employer. Nigeria’s fertile soil became the country’s powerhouse at the time of independence but the modernization of agriculture was neglected after the oil boom in the 1970’s, thereby compromising the country’s food independence.
Jonathan’s cabinet was charged with the mission of transforming Nigeria’s agricultural sector from subsistence to commercial. The country’s dependence on imported crops had become fiscally unsustainable; paradoxically, Nigeria had the climate and the work force to become a rice exporter. The most comprehensive agricultural reform the country had seen put in place a series of mechanisms, including a fertilizer scheme and seed bank back to attract young people into the sector and be the one of the axes to diversify the economy.
Along with the agricultural sector the Nigeria Transformation Agenda sought to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) for the manufacturing sector. Nigeria is the continent’s largest recipient of FDI, slowly making the country a regional hub for manufacturing. The boom in the manufacturing and telecommunications has reduced the Nigeria’s oil dependent economy; today oil represents 14% of the GDP in comparison to 33% in the 90s. Jonathan’s reforms certainly contributed to consolidate Nigeria as Africa’s biggest economy, surpassing South Africa as the continent’s economic leader. However, these reforms have faced multiple challenges that have slowed down their impact, such as the lack of the necessary infrastructure.
Nigeria’s power sector has suffered for many years; the investment needed in infrastructure has long been ignored, which resulted in one of the lowest electricity consumptions in the world in per capita terms. In only two years, the reforms put in place were impressive: a 35% increase in electricity supply and a significant decrease in blackouts.
Just like electricity, a poor national transportation system hindered the connection to the country’s different regions and discouraging a more symmetric development. The rehabilitation of the railroad system, although slow, has facilitated and reduced times for travelers going form Lagos to Kano, Nigeria’s two largest cities.
In any other context, Jonathan’s comprehensive agenda would have secures him another term in office, but the country’s insecurity has become the focal, no, only point of the elections. Fourth-time presidential hopeful Buhari and his campaign team have been able to capitalize on Boko Haram’s attacks, depicting the incumbent president as an irresolute man. While Buhari’s military past may sound appealing to Nigerians, tired of Boko Haram’s terror spree, his platform lacks a clear economic and social plan, ultimately needed to discourage the emergence of more insurgent groups. Buhari’s campaign ambiguity even raises the possibility that he could revert Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda achievements in the name of security.
As Boko Haram’s brutality increases, Nigerian voters are quickly forgetting the reforms implemented by the incumbent president. What’s more, General Buhari has conveniently promised his supporters that he will solve the Boko Haram crisis in 2 months after taking office, charming both the electorate and the international press. Come February, Nigerians will have to decide whether they are willing to vote in the old military regime, in the hopes that his strong hand will stop the terrorist group or if they will give Jonathan a second chance.