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Nigeria: President-Elect pledges to fight the evil of corruption

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President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader, vowed to fight the scourges of corruption and Boko Haram militants. Sunday Alamba/Associated Press

From an article Adam Nossiter published 1 April 2015 by The New York Times under the headline:

Nigerian President-Elect Muhammadu Buhari Sets Out His Agenda


KANO, Nigeria — Nigeria’s president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, did not smile while making his acceptance speech on Wednesday — understandably, as terrorism and corruption were his main talking points.

A day after piling up substantial vote totals against the incumbent president, Mr. Buhari, a former general who once rose to power in a military coup, further consolidated something extraordinary for Nigeria: the peaceful passing of power from one political party to another through the ballot box.

The country is now a democratic nation like others, Mr. Buhari suggested Wednesday, both in his words and in the fact that the democratic process had worked well enough that he could give the speech at all.

But in his remarks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Mr. Buhari also bluntly enumerated two scourges in this giant democracy: the ruthless onslaught of the Boko Haram militant group and the “evil of corruption,” as he put it.

Boko Haram led Mr. Buhari on Wednesday to segue immediately into Nigeria’s corruption problem, which “attacks our national character” and “distorts the economy,” he said.

He made it clear that, falling oil prices aside, he sees this as the country’s top economic problem, telling the audience at Abuja’s International Conference Center that “such an illegal yet powerful force soon comes to undermine democracy.” He promised to “end this threat to our economic development and democratic survival.”

At Chatham House, Mr. Buhari suggested that what he called a “war waged on corruption” would be the first step in tackling the country’s pressing economic problems. The price of oil, on which the government depends for over 70 percent of its revenue, has tumbled. Nigeria’s currency has fallen some 20 percent against the dollar over six months. Foreign currency reserves are dwindling, and an oil-revenue rainy day fund has been ransacked.

“In the face of dwindling revenues, a good place to start the repositioning of Nigeria’s economy is to swiftly tackle two ills that have ballooned under the present administration: waste and corruption,” Mr. Buhari said at Chatham House.

“If you cut the graft, you can do things,” he said. “We have a new presidential jet in this budget. Most airlines in Nigeria don’t have as many jets as the presidential fleet.”

Another economist also suggested that Mr. Buhari’s anticorruption stance was critical in a country with, as a recent World Bank paper put it, a “deeply embedded culture of corruption.”

With the new president’s emphasis on “accountability, integrity and transparency,” one economist, Bismarck Rewane, said the “missing piece in the Nigerian economy” would be filled in.

Of course, other Nigerian politicians have promised to end corruption, only to fail or even steal with abandon afterward. But there is some reason to think Mr. Buhari may hew more closely to his promises. As military ruler in 1984 and 1985, he did not enrich himself. And he ruthlessly pursued those whom he accused of corruption.

“Corruption will not be tolerated by this administration, and it shall no longer be allowed to stand as if it is a respected monument in this nation,” he said Wednesday.

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