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Nigerian President Faces Backlash Amid Worsening Economic Crisis

By Masara Kim

(Jos) President Bola Tinubu is being slammed for enacting policies that have ramped up inflation and dealt a blow to the nation’s economy. Critics argue that the President’s lavish spending on governance and personal matters fosters corruption and shirks accountability for the current economic turmoil.

Atiku Abubakar who has contested Nigeria’s Presidency more than three times has accused Mr. Tinubu of running a corrupt government [credit Atiku Abubakar]
Atiku Abubakar who has contested Nigeria’s Presidency more than three times has accused Mr. Tinubu of running a corrupt government [credit Atiku Abubakar]

“Tinubu increased the number of ministers and ministries and is spending enormous resources renovating houses for himself, his deputy, and the First Lady,” wrote a former Vice President in the country, Atiku Abubakar.

“Worse still, Tinubu has refused to roll up his sleeves and do the work that he signed up for,” Abubakar wrote in a post on x.

“Instead, he and his team are preoccupied with scapegoating [others] for their own failures,” wrote Abubakar, a former Presidential candidate.

Currency Traders Take the Blame

Officials recently took aggressive action against foreign exchange traders to bolster the country’s struggling currency and reduce inflation. Police and anti-fraud officials raided dozens of foreign exchange outlets otherwise known as Bureau De Change (BDC) around the country, arrested hundreds of traders in a brazen human rights violation according to rights activists speaking to TruthNigeria.

According to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, food inflation rate in January 2024 soared to 35.41 per cent on a year-on-year basis, up from 24.32 per cent in January 2023.

General annual inflation rose to 29.90 per cent in January from 28.92 per cent in December 2023, reported the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on February 15.

Within the same period, armed attacks wracking rural communities killed more than 8,222 people according to Intersociety, an international nonprofit tracking genocide in the country. The attacks concentrating in the country’s middle belt have displaced more than 15 million people since 2019, Intersociety has reported. During the 15-year period, at least 6.4 percent  of the country’s land area of 356,669 sq mi has been seized by terrorists, reports Intersociety.

Drag on the Economy of Banditry and Official Corruption

The Federal Government knows better than anyone that sprawling banditry across several states of the highly productive rural land in the Middle Belt is one of the key drivers of food shortages – and price inflation linked to it. Although the Administration has not acknowledged this basic fact, the bold investments by the Nigerian army to wipe out bandit gangs in the Northwestern States  during the last eight months appears to be a common-sense response to an existential threat of famine.  

Yet the bandit gangs, estimated to be more than 30,000 in the Northwest alone, continue to make mass kidnappings and displace tens of thousands of citizens,  despite an a ramped up army and air force.  That was bought with an  increasing defense budget which soared to $4 billion in 2024, the largest in a single year. The gangs have continued to terrorize highways and have expanded into the forests of the Southeast and the Deep South,  forcing farmers to stay away from their farms. This predicament has forced Nigeria, the wealthiest African nation, to rely more on importing products to meet local demand, adding strain to foreign-exchange reserves, experts told TruthNigeria.

Nigerian media rarely talk about it, but another ever-present drag on the economy is the endemic corruption within the federal government itself. Allegations of corruption in military spending have gained momentum in recent years. Only one case has been followed up with successful investigation and prosecution. Maj. Gen. Umaru Mohammed, who served as Group Managing Director at the Nigerian Army Properties Limited,  was on October 11, 2023 convicted of corruption and sentenced to seven years in jail. Several related cases have suffered delayed trials, and/or neglect by the authorities.

They include mass corruption charges against President Bola Tinubu’s predecessor and political ally, Muhammadu Buhari, himself a retired army General.

President Tinubu shares a warm handshake with his predecessor and political ally, Muhammadu Buhari who is currently facing allegations of corruption [credit: Bola Tinubu]
President Tinubu shares a warm handshake with his predecessor and political ally, Muhammadu Buhari who is currently facing allegations of corruption [credit: Bola Tinubu]

Senator Ahmed Lawan, who served as Senate President during Buhari’s second term, told the nation on February 20 that the Buhari administration accessed and utilized an astonishing N30 trillion loan  [that’s close to $30 billion] the country’s central bank for undisclosed projects. Lawan stated that the amount surpassed the N23 trillion loan approved by the Senate for capital projects. No drastic actions have been taken so far.

Instead, officials are taking aggressive action against foreign exchange traders to bolster the country’s struggling currency and forcibly stop surging inflation. Police and anti-fraud officials raided dozens of foreign exchange outlets otherwise known as Bureau De Change (BDC) around the country and arrested hundreds of traders in a brazen human rights violation, according to rights activists speaking to TruthNigeria.

Hundreds of forex dealers were on February 19 arrested across the country by law enforcement and anti-fraud authorities in the wake of the Nigerian Naira plunging to an unprecedented low of N1,850 per $1 USD, according to local media reports,

In a single operation on February 21, in the state of Enugu, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the leading anti-fraud agency in the country, reported the arrest of 115 “currency racketeers.”

The agency stated in a press release on its official website that the operation was based on “credible intelligence about certain currency exchange operators, currency traders, and street vendors running illegal foreign exchange markets” in Enugu’s capital city.

The coordinated effort involving the police and customs officials resulted in the seizure of over $100,000 in various currencies.

Local media reported that more than 100 forex dealers were arrested in a gun raid on forex businesses in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on February 19.

Similar operations were reported in Kano and Ibadan, with Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, issuing directives on February 20, to the Nigeria Police Force, the EFCC, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), and the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to target forex market speculators.

Ribadu, as communicated by Zakari Mijinyawa, Head of Strategic Communications in the Office of the NSA, claimed the intervention was necessary because certain individuals and entities were undermining efforts by the Central Bank of Nigeria to stabilize the foreign exchange market and boost economic activities.

Nigeria’s ‘Big Fish’ Evade Prosecution

“While big fish loot the country dry, they’re scapegoating small fry in brazen rights violations,” wrote Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian rights lawyer based in the United States to TruthNigeria by text message.

“The senate approved N22.8 trillion but N30 trillion has been spent. They’re now investigating the missing SEVEN TRILLION NAIRA [$4.4 billion] but chasing BDC operators for lacking licenses,” wrote Ogebe, the leader of a Nigerian Law Group in the U.S.

“This is counterproductive because scarring off sellers further reduces supply and pressures the naira,” wrote Ogebe who blamed the Nigerian government’s bad economic policies for the ongoing forex crisis.

A former official of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Jonathan Akuns, concurs that the government’s crackdown on forex dealers is a misguided approach to addressing the decline of the country’s currency.

“It is a wrong approach to raid outlets that are engaged in legitimate occupational trades,” wrote Akuns, who recently retired as an administrator at the CBN.

“It is okay to isolate those suspected of criminal acts amongst such practitioners and bring them to justice without the brazenness of a gestapo approach displayed by raids,” Akuns wrote in text messages to TruthNigeria.

“Bureau De Change dealers are economic agents that drive intermediation and monetary transmission mechanism in the Nigerian economy. Resorting to raids is a clear evidence of the impotence of regulatory policy and/or market failure in moulding expectations of market players in stemming the forces of demand and supply of foreign currencies by economic agents,” Akuns wrote.

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Masara Kim, a conflict reporter in Jos, is senior editor of TruthNigeria.

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