ABUJA, Nigeria - As he entered his final week in office, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan offered up a prayer for the success of Muhammadu Buhari, the former military ruler who takes the helm of Africa’s biggest economy on Friday.
However, if Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) is to be believed, that goodwill did not stretch as far as the thousands of pro-Jonathan bureaucrats preparing for Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power.
Citing weeks of strike action by fuel distributors that crippled the economy, the APC accused outgoing officials of creating an “atmosphere of contrived chaos” to sully 72-year-old Buhari’s moment of political triumph.
“The whole scenario reeks of sabotage,” APC spokesman Lai Mohammed said in a statement that laid bare the party’s frustrations with the behavior of Jonathan’s outgoing and scandal-plagued administration.
“This is the most vivid manifestation of the old saying that literally translates to a departing office holder defecating on the chair he is vacating,” Mohammed concluded.
Although the strike by fuel distributors, who said they were owed $1 billion by the government, ended this week, it caused massive disruption to Nigeria’s 170 million people, grounding flights, forcing banks to close and cutting phone signals.
It also served as a reminder to Buhari of the challenges he will face in Africa’s top crude producer, including a weakening currency and an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamist militants that has claimed thousands of lives.
On Thursday, Jonathan took Buhari on a short tour of the presidential villa in Abuja, at the end of which he urged unity to “build a stronger and more prosperous nation”.
Buhari responded by thanking Jonathan for swiftly conceding defeat in the March 28 election, rather than challenging or disputing the result — an outcome that could have unleashed political violence.
“You could had made things difficult, but you choose the path of peace and honor,” he said. “Thank you very much”.
Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) disputed the accusations from the APC that they were hindering the transfer of power, saying their political foes were being too demanding — especially given that the constitution says outgoing officials need not hand over anything other than simple notes.
“The APC transition committee were asking for too much, more than was appropriate,” said PDP spokesman and former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode.
However, APC insiders told Reuters they did not receive handover notes from the various ministries until Monday — just five days before Buhari’s inauguration — and what they did get was virtually worthless.
“The outgoing government is not committed to handing over information of significance,” one APC source told Reuters. “Nobody is putting a lot of value in what is being handed over.”
The confusion and bad blood is casting a shadow over the return to high office of Buhari, who first came to power after a military coup in 1983.
Reports that Buhari, a sandal-wearing Muslim ascetic who has pledged to fight corruption, might look into allegations of wrongdoing during Jonathan’s tenure are also unlikely to have helped relations between APC and PDP grandees.
However, analysts said end-of-administration apathy and malaise has not been uncommon in Nigeria, even when the baton is being passed inside the ruling party.
“The ‘end of term’ feel that has characterized the last few weeks is a familiar part of the political culture,” said Anthony Goldman of Nigeria-focused PM Consulting.
“Often neither outgoing nor incoming governments have reliable data to work with. Sometimes it’s systemic, sometimes deliberate,” he added.
Many Nigerians believe that already widespread corruption became rampant under Jonathan, further undermining an economic system that sees Africa’s top oil producer import most of the 40 million liters consumed every day at heavily subsidized prices.
“There is nothing to handover (to the APC) because there was nothing really being run. No accountability,” said a source with a long history in Nigerian politics, who declined to be named.
Jonathan’s efforts to revamp the dilapidated power grid won praise from economists and investors, but the renovations have yet to bear fruit, leaving the economy reliant on expensive diesel generators for electricity.
Repairing Nigeria’s decrepit refineries after decades of neglect will be high on Buhari’s list of priorities.
The nationwide impact of the fuel strike crystallized some of the problems Buhari will have to confront, said Rolake Akinkugbe, head of energy and natural resources at FBN Capital.
“The current low global oil price trend, and past consensus on the need to prioritize long-term investment in infrastructure should set the scene for a phasing out of subsidies,” said Akinkugbe. “Government finances are strained and Nigeria is clearly at an economic crossroads.”
Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh, Felix Onuah and Alexis Akwagyiram; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Ed Cropley and Crispian Balmer