Nigeria's Buhari sets out pitch for re-election in keynote speech

Muhammadu Buhari (File: AFP)
Muhammadu Buhari (File: AFP)

Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari on Monday made his final independence day address to the nation before elections next year, effectively setting out his government's manifesto as he seeks a second term.

The 75-year-old former military ruler is currently the only candidate in the running to secure the presidential ticket of his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party.

The APC national convention is expected to endorse him this weekend at the same time as the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party picks its challenger.

October 1, which is a public holiday in Nigeria and commemorates the day in 1960 when Nigeria won independence from Britain, traditionally sees presidents take stock.

But with candidates and parties jockeying for position at party primaries, the head of state's message takes on added significance.

Security pledges

Buhari came to power in 2015 on a pledge to defeat Boko Haram insurgents, take tougher action on corruption and improve the economy.

He vowed in the speech to "work tirelessly to promote, protect and preserve... a united, peaceful, prosperous and secure Nigeria".

On security, he has previously said the jihadists, whose campaign of violence has left more than 27 000 dead since 2009, were "technically defeated", despite repeated attacks.

In the latest attacks, nine people were killed during raids on two villages in the Konduga area of northeastern Borno state on September 19.

There have also been at least eight attempts to overrun military bases.

On Monday he said only there had been "a steady improvement in the security situation" and the government remained "committed to ending the crisis".

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Over the last year the security services have equally been stretched by renewed violence in a long-running resource conflict between farmers and nomadic herders, plus cattle rustling and kidnapping gangs.

Parliament at one point even issued Buhari with a veiled threat of impeachment for failing to protect lives and property.

Buhari said only he was seeking a "durable solution" to the pastoralist conflict, which has seen 1,300 people killed in the first half of this year and has been seen as having the potential to disrupt the election.

Last week, 11 people were killed in fighting near the central city of Jos, leading to a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Free and fair elections

On the economy, which in 2016 went into into recession, Buhari offered little detail other than to say the government was seeking to end the reliance on oil revenue.

Recent days have been hit by the threat of a widening national strike over a new minimum wage while there is some disquiet over the country's debt profile.

He vaunted new infrastructure projects, stabilising the naira currency and inflation, and attempts to create a "level playing field" for investment.

On corruption, which has seen a slew of big-name arrests and investigations but no major convictions in the last three years, he said progress was being made.

And in what could be seen as an attempt to mend fences after describing young Nigerians as "lazy" earlier this year, Buhari said young people "play a central role" in the country from technology to the arts.

More than half of Nigeria's over 180 million people are under 24.

February's elections will be the first involving young people who have never lived under military rule. Nigeria returned to civilian government in 1999.

Elections since then have been blighted by rigging and deadly political violence.

Last week, international observers expressed concerns about irregularities, harassment and intimidation of voters at a governorship election in the southwestern state of Osun, which was won by the APC.

Buhari promised elections would be "fully participatory, free and fair". "The ballot box is how we make our choice for the governments that rule in our name," he added.

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