Back to Africa Check

Battle of the titans: Fact-checking arch-rivals in race for Nigeria’s presidency

This article is more than 5 years old

This week, Nigerians will elect a president. They are spoilt for choice: the official list has 73 names for the presidency, though some have since dropped out or endorsed others.

The ruling All Progressives Congress and opposition Peoples Democratic Party are seen as the parties to beat. In recent town hall meetings their presidential flagbearers, the APC’s President Muhammadu Buhari and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, laid out their plans to improve Nigeria.

But did they get their facts right? We checked eight notable claims. We have contacted both campaigns for their evidence and will update this report should they respond.

(Note: We’ve also fact-checked claims by other candidates from other parties. You can also keep track of the progress of campaign pledges made by the incumbent administration by visiting our Nigeria promise tracker.)


Who: President Muhammadu Buhari


“The question of Almajiris’ lack of primary or basic education are all local government problems.”



The basic education of “Almajiris” - poor children in northern Nigeria - is mainly the responsibility of local governments and not the “centre”, Buhari said at a January 2019 town hall meeting.

The Universal Basic Education Act provides for free basic education for all Nigerian children of school-going age. The act gives the federal government a mainly oversight role.

Providing and maintaining primary education is a function of local government councils, according to the country’s constitution.   

“While the president is right that local governments are constitutionally charged to provide basic education, his constitutional oversight roles allows him to implement direct intervention schemes if needed,” Eduplana’s Oriyomi Ogunwale told Africa Check. The organisation monitors education standards in Nigeria. 


“When this administration came in, Boko Haram was holding 17 local governments in the northeast... they are not holding any local government now.”



Buhari was answering a question on why Boko Haram militants were still active when his administration had claimed they were “technically defeated”. (Note: Africa Check has previously checked a number of claims that the group has been vanquished).

The number of local government areas under the militants’ control in 2015 has been variously reported, from 14 to “around” 20.

Recent Boko Haram actions include the February 2019 attacks in the states of Adamawa and Maiduguri and the November 2018 loss of 23 soldiers in Metele, Borno.

Despite these setbacks, the group certainly did not hold broad swathes of territory, Adebayo Akinade, the director-general of the Institute of Security Nigeria, told Africa Check.

There had been “a larger measure of success in driving away Boko Haram”, he said. “I know they are still a threat because they have some international backing. But there's been a drastic improvement.”

Cheta Nwanze, lead researcher at SBM Intelligence, however told Africa Check he believed the group still held some areas in the north.

It is difficult to independently verify that Boko Haram does not retain a hold on any area, which is why we rate this claim as still unproven. - David Ajikobi

Who: Yemi Osinbajo (VP and Buhari's running mate)


“Nigeria earned US$383 billion from oil revenues in the four years preceding our government [but] there were no savings.”



Osinbajo said the previous PDP government had enjoyed high oil revenues, but failed to save any of it. He estimated the country’s oil earnings from 2011 to 2014 at US$383 billion. Annual data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation shows that in that period the country exported 3.2 billion barrels of crude oil.

The Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative is the best source of data for government revenue from oil and gas, chartered accountant Haruna Yahaya told Africa Check.

Yahaya’s accountancy firm audits companies in the oil and gas sector and works with the extractive initiative to produce annual reports.

The reports show that the Nigerian government earned $68.44 billion in 2011, $62.94 billion in 2012, $58.08 billion in 2013 and $54.56 billion in 2014.

This was $244 billion over the four years, significantly lower than Osinbajo’s claim.

Were there ‘no savings’ at all?

This is also incorrect. Nigeria had $28.34 billion in foreign reserves and $2 billion in its excess crude account in June 2015, days after Buhari took power, according to the finance ministry.

Oil revenue that exceeds a threshold set by the budget is saved in the excess crude account. It is a buffer against revenue shortfalls and changing oil prices. - Allwell Okpi


Every country in the world that wants to undergo serious development borrows money. Our debt-to-GDP ratio of about 20% is one of the lowest in the world.



The vice president was batting away the moderator’s claim that the current administration had contracted more debt than the economy could afford.

Nigeria was borrowing to build infrastructure and the country’s debt-to-GDP of “about 20% is one of the lowest in the world,” Osinbajo said.

The International Monetary Fund projects Nigeria’s 2019 gross debt-to-GDP ratio at 26.85%. It was 24.76% in 2018. Some 19 countries have a lower debt-to-GDP ratio than Nigeria.

While Nigeria’s debt-to-GDP ratio can be considered low relative to other countries, a more important factor is the debt service to revenue ratio, Ifeanyi Nwokoma, professor of economics at the University of Lagos, told Africa Check.

“Low debt-to-GDP ratio is not a guarantee [you can] borrow more. In terms of specifics, you need to go deeper and look at your ability to service the debt.”

In a March 2018 report, Nigeria’s Debt Management Office said both its public and external debt service ratios were “highly” vulnerable to reduced government revenue.

Osinbajo did concede that there was “a revenue to debt issue” and that the country should be earning more revenue than it currently does. His claim thus understates this fact. - Allwell Okpi


Who: PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar


“We have 21 million unemployed young men and women.”



Abubakar made a similar claim when flagging off his presidential campaign in July 2018. The National Bureau of Statistics defines the “youth” in the job market as people aged 15 to 34.

The bureau’s most recent data shows that as at September 2018, 55.4% of young people were either underemployed or unemployed, an increase from 52.6% in the same period of 2017.

In absolute terms, 13.1 million young people were unemployed while 11.3 million were underemployed, working less than 20 hours a week. This adds up to 24.5 million, up from the 22.64 million recorded between January and September 2017. Abubakar’s number is thus lower than what the data shows. – David Ajikobi


“...We have not had it so bad in this country.”



Abubakar added that this level of unemployment was unprecedented in Nigeria.

While the claim could be correct in terms of absolute numbers, comparing historical unemployment rates in Nigeria would be wrong, Sarah Anyanwu, a professor of development economics at the University of Abuja previously told Africa Check.

This is because the country had since changed the way it calculated unemployment. (Note: A detailed explanation can be read here.)

Anyawu chaired the committee that reviewed unemployment statistics in 2014. - David Ajikobi

Who: PDP vice presidential candidate Peter Obi


“Capital expenditure in 2016 was N1.2 trillion and 2017 was N1.5 trillion.”



Obi prefaced the claim by saying that while the government borrowed N7.428 trillion for public projects in 2015 and 2017, only N3.2 trillion was used for this purpose.

According to the Debt Management Office, Nigeria’s total debt was N12.6 trillion in December 2015, N17.36 trillion in December 2016 and N21.73 trillion in December 2017.

In 2016, capital expenditure was N1.59 trillion (including share of capital in statutory transfers was N1.75 trillion). But media reports say the amount disbursed for capital projects that year was N1.2 trillion. We have not yet been able to verify this figure as some of this rolled over into 2017.

In 2017, the budgeted capital expenditure was N2,178 trillion, while development projects for the year were reported in the media as using N1.6 trillion. But in the absence of an official budget performance report, we are unable to verify Obi’s number. - Motunrayo Joel


“We now have 90 million people living in extreme poverty.”



According to the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria had an estimated 87 million people living in extreme poverty in May 2018 – more than India’s 73 million - and the highest in the world.

The clock is run by the World Data Lab and defines extreme poverty as living on less than US$1.90 a day. In January 2019, when Obi made the claim, the clock’s estimate was 90.9 million extremely poor Nigerians or close to half of the country’s estimated population of 195.7 million.

World Data Lab’s Kristofer Hamel told Africa Check the clock uses different data sources. For Nigeria it used four: the 2012/2013 General Household Survey, national accounts published by the World Bank, IMF GDP per capita growth rates, and population data.

Its research methods have been peer-reviewed. But Polycarp Chigbu, a professor of statistics at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, told Africa Check he had concerns about the age of the data.

“The reliability of data is largely dependent on when and how it was collected. 2013 is a long time ago. A lot of economic indicators may have changed.” He added that shorter-term data may not track economic cycles too well. -Allwell Okpi

Further reading:

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.