Long-dead Nigeria refineries starting up, power output has nearly doubled — in only 100 days, is president Buhari on to something?

Nicknamed 'Baba Go Slow' by his critics, the new Nigerian president is yet to pick a Cabinet, but there are notable tangible gains under his rule.

NIGERIA’S corruption- and insurgency-battling President Muhammadu Buhari was marking his first 100 days in power Saturday by looking ahead rather than behind, his spokesman said, as observers noted some significant gains in the country’s troubled energy sector.

“(Buhari) does not consider the 100 days in office as a milestone… There is no official event to mark the day,” Garba Shehu told news agency AFP.

Buhari ran as a hawk on security and with a tough anti-corruption stance, pledging to recover “mind-boggling” sums of stolen oil money and vowing to crush Boko Haram’s six-year Islamist insurgency that has killed at least 15,000.

The 72-year-old president is determined to “fix insecurity, the economy and eliminate corruption. These are the goals he has been pursuing in the past 100 days,” said Shehu.

The leader has accused former president Goodluck Jonathan, who ruled from 2010 until May, of having left the treasury “virtually empty.”

Buhari’s vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, has estimated the country’s debts at some $60 billion (54 billion euros), and said Nigeria’s economy is in its worst state since the country gained independence 55 years ago.

Local media have been largely supportive of Buhari thus far, comparing him favourably with Jonathan.

But Buhari’s own slowness in forming a cabinet is hurting Africa’s largest economy, said Paul Igbinoba, a Lagos-based economist and political commentator.

“The economy has suffered from the delay… The president needs to move quickly in appointing his key ministers and putting in place his economic team,” he said.

Yet there have been tangible improvements under his rule.

Electricity production rose from less than 3,000 megawatts before Buhari came into office to about 5,000 megawatts now, while refineries have suddenly come back to life after years of idleness.

In late August the country moved closer to finishing a power plant expected to boost the country’s supply by almost 10% when it signed a financing agreement with the World Bank. The Washington-based lender partially guaranteed $237 million of debt being used to build the privately-owned Azura electricity plant in Benin City in the south, which is expected to provide 450 megawatts of electricity when it starts in 2018.

Authorities called the deal “a major milestone” with other financiers lending $900 million to the plant. 

Generation in Africa’s biggest economy peaks at 4,600 megawatts, the power ministry said. That’s about eight times less than in South Africa, which has a third of Nigeria’s population.

Assault on graft
In an early sign of his assault on graft, Buhari sacked the entire board of state oil company NNPC, notorious for mismanagement and rampant theft. He then installed a Harvard-educated lawyer to spearhead reforms as the new managing director.

The military has also intensified its war against Boko Haram in the northeast, using its air power to support ground troops.

Buhari recently set a three-month deadline to subdue the insurgents.

For many observers, he faces a crucial test with his first budget. Having seen the price of oil collapse and Africa’s biggest economy grow at the slowest pace in at least five years, he now has to deliver a budget that may make or break his credibility with voters and investors.

“The budget is a very important test for Buhari. People will be looking at where the cuts come,” Manji Cheto, vice president at Teneo Intelligence, a risk advisory company, told Bloomberg news wire from London on August 31. 

“Even if they manage $100 million in savings, that will be just enough to send the right signal to markets that he is doing something.”

The budget is due to make its way through lawmakers’ committees in the final quarter of the year.

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