“My main criticism is that both documents are extremely ambitious (unrealistic perhaps) in their spending plans without much focus on generating revenue to implement those plans. Politically, I can understand why that is the case – talking about collecting or raising taxes isn’t exactly compelling for the general public.”


It is election season in Nigeria. Elections for the presidency and federal legislature are slated for mid-February. In early March, those for the governorship of many of the country’s thirty-six states and others would follow. Naturally, the greatest focus is on the presidential race. And while there are more than fifty contestants for the job, including a few internationally recognised technocrats, all eyes are on two leading presidential candidates.

Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is seeking a second four-year term. His main opponent is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Both candidates hail from northern Nigeria, but from different parts of it. President Buhari is from the north-western part of the country, while Mr Abubakar is from the north-eastern part. Whereas the north-western geopolitical zone is quite peaceful, the north-eastern section suffers from insecurity, with terrorists attacking key cities and towns now and then.

Incidentally, the insecurity in that part of the country is why Mr. Buhari beat former President Goodluck Jonathan some four years ago. It also helped his chances that Mr. Jonathan was a Southerner. Northern voters did not have a difficult choice to make. Things are not so straightforward this time around. That is even as Mr. Buhari still enjoys a cult following in the North. Inevitably, a significant portion of Northern voters are likely to pitch their tents with Mr. Abubakar; in the North-East especially.

Mr. Buhari is thus likely to secure most of the votes in Western Nigeria and Mr. Abubakar, the East. Understandably, most forecasts point to a likely close tally. To change the dynamics and perhaps win comfortably, each of the candidates must demonstrate the superiority of his ideas. And in this age of social media, the voting public is able to easily assess them very quickly.

In view of this, the leading candidates have made a big show of their policy documents. Mr. Buhari calls his the “Next Level” while Mr Abubakar’s is “Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again”. Nigerians are quite used to these well-packaged plans now. There have been many in the past. But since the problems they were meant to solve continue to endure, they would not be blamed if they are somewhat sceptical about these new ones. Still, what is probably uppermost on minds is prosperity. Put simply: jobs. Both candidates promise as much.

Of course, the incumbent is probably best judged by his administration’s policy document: the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). In doing so, it is realised that some gains have been made. And quite a lot remains to be done. In any case, renewed terrorist attacks in the North-East has yet again put security on the front burner. Even so, it is widely believed that poverty is the root cause of insecurity in different parts of the country.

“For Atiku, I’m concerned about the grand plans for infrastructure spending ($90 billion a year) with zero discussion of revenue growth or even foundational work that needs to be done to formalise the economy and move Nigeria towards better tax collection (like the national ID scheme).”


Clashes between cattle herders and farmers in the Middle Belt of the country have an economic rationale, for instance. Drought effects, like the drying of the Lake Chad, is believed to be one of the factors behind the relatively high poverty levels and consequent insecurity in the North-East. Thus, it is their economic visions that should matter the most. Does Mr. Buhari plan to do anything differently to improve the economy? And what is Mr. Abubakar proposing to do differently? Three leading analysts were asked for their views:

Amaka Anku, Africa director and practice head, Eurasia Group

“So I think what’s really at stake for Nigeria is revenue growth and infrastructure investments – so that’s the paradigm through which I’m analysing their policy documents.”

“My main criticism is that both documents are extremely ambitious (unrealistic perhaps) in their spending plans without much focus on generating revenue to implement those plans. Politically, I can understand why that is the case – talking about collecting or raising taxes isn’t exactly compelling for the general public.”

“I was surprised that Buhari’s document is completely silent on the oil and gas sector – does this mean his administration will not push any reforms in this area? Quite strange to simply ignore such an important sector of the economy.”

“For Atiku, I’m concerned about the grand plans for infrastructure spending ($90 billion a year) with zero discussion of revenue growth or even foundational work that needs to be done to formalise the economy and move Nigeria towards better tax collection (like the national ID scheme).”

Omotola Abimbola, Fixed income and currency research specialist, Ecobank

“We believe Nigeria could have its first presidential election campaign fought on ideological grounds in 2019, with the two major parties campaigning on ideologically opposed sets of policies and programmes.”

“At first glance, President Muhammadu Buhari’s “Next Level” plan appears to be a continuation of his administration’s existing policies and programmes such as social investment schemes, welfare spending on the vulnerable, deficit-financed infrastructure investment and public sector job creation.”

“Buhari’s re-election manifesto, on the other hand, essentially features more of the same. The state-centric approach to economic development has been preserved, while higher targets have been set. Yet given the weak economic performance, rising unemployment and a mounting debt pile over the past four years, there is nothing to suggest the old recipes would produce different results in a potential second Buhari term.”


“On the other hand, candidate Atiku promises reforms and policies to increase private sector participation in the economy, particularly privatisation of underperforming government asset in the oil and gas and transport sectors, liberalisation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, reduction in corporate tax rates, lower regulation, PPP-funded infrastructure investments and promotion of investment friendly policies.”

“In American political parlance, the PDP appears to be more conservative – smaller state, big business and low corporate taxes – while the APC’s plans bear close resemblance to the democratic-party agenda – big state and welfare spending to support the vulnerability. Ultimately, both candidates’ promises are ambitious vis-a-vis current fiscal realities and their policy documents are conspicuously light on revenue generating strategies to create more fiscal space.”

“President Buhari wants to continue the current approach to creating jobs using government subventions and direct employment, a position at odds with increasing revenue pressures, already-high recurrent spending and a bloated CBN balance sheet. Candidate Atiku promised to create three million jobs a year and double Nigeria’s GDP to USD900 billion in four years, which is tall order with little consideration for age-long structural challenges limiting short term growth potential.”

“On the ERGP, we think the implementation is still standing on its first pillar of reforms (restoring macroeconomic stability), and implementation of the other four strategic areas (Economic Diversification and Growth Drivers, Competitiveness, Social Inclusion and Jobs, Governance and Other Enablers) will be further out due to administrative inertia in pushing through important structural reforms.”

Malte Liewerscheidt, vice president, Teneo

“Atiku’s stated aim to double the size of the economy by 2025 would require annual GDP growth rates to jump to 12 per cent. This is highly unrealistic as double-digit growth rates over longer periods are historically unprecedented. While the plan is almost guaranteed to fall short of target, the liberal reform measures suggested are still likely to inject desperately needed new momentum into the economy.”

“Buhari’s re-election manifesto, on the other hand, essentially features more of the same. The state-centric approach to economic development has been preserved, while higher targets have been set. Yet given the weak economic performance, rising unemployment and a mounting debt pile over the past four years, there is nothing to suggest the old recipes would produce different results in a potential second Buhari term.”

Rafiq Raji, a writer and researcher, is based in Lagos, Nigeria. Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

An edited version was published by New African magazine in January 2019.