Nigeria’s outgoing president promised to leave a legacy fashioned from concrete, stone, and steel. Instead, billions in stalled financing from China is forcing him to temper his aspirations to seed the country with ambitious public works.
Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, was elected to lead Africa’s most populous nation in 2015 on pledges to tackle a deadly Islamist insurgency, clamp down on corruption, and build critical infrastructure. With only a year left before the end of his second and final term in office, it appears he put too much faith in the appetite of Chinese lenders to fund the roads, railways, and power plants that could transform Nigeria.
“It is obvious that things are below expectations,” says Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy analyst at Development Reimagined, a Beijing-based consulting firm. “It would greatly help the ruling party’s chances in the polls next year if they deliver on these major infrastructure projects.”
Although Buhari has scored significant victories, more than $ 25 billion worth of projects that were meant to be completed before his departure are either far behind schedule or yet to start.
Africa’s largest economy is crying out for investment in infrastructure to spur growth and diversify beyond oil production. The public and private sectors need to spend $ 2.3 trillion over 23 years to tackle the country’s infrastructure deficit, with the heaviest allocations directed toward transport and energy, according to a finance ministry report published in late 2020.
About 40% of Nigeria’s 200 million people live in poverty, and the government generates barely enough revenue to service the nation’s debt, trapping it in an endless cycle of borrowing. Like many developing countries, it’s turned to loans from Chinese state-owned banks to finance major public works.
“Buhari got into power and looked at his options at how to provide infrastructure to Nigeria,” says Abdul-Gafar Tobi Oshodi, a political science lecturer at Lagos State University. “China is known for that. China is the leading financial state in Africa, not just in Nigeria.
” From 2000 to 2020, China’s lenders committed almost $ 160 billion to African governments and state-owned companies, according to a database run by Johns Hopkins University and Boston University.