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Nigeria at 61: checking president Buhari's 2021 Independence Day claims

Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari gave his annual independence day speech on 1 October 2021, marking 61 years since the end of colonialism. We checked 10 of his claims, ranging from Covid-19 vaccines, water access, insecurity and infrastructure.

This article is more than 2 years old

  • In his 1 October 2021 Independence Day speech, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari made numerous claims about the country’s progress under his administration.
  • His correct claims were about petroleum industry reform, economic recovery after the 2020 recession, agriculture’s contribution to GDP, and road construction. Claims about Covid vaccine rollout, the surrender of 8,000 Boko Haram terrorists and the national school feeding scheme were mostly correct.
  • One claim about drinking water was understated, and another misleading. But Buhari was incorrect to say that the non-oil sector’s contribution to GDP had consistently risen.

On 1 October 2021 president Muhammadu Buhari addressed Nigeria on the country’s Independence Day. This marked 61 years since Nigeria became a sovereign state after British colonial rule.

Buhari reflected on progress but also highlighted recent challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic, insecurity and an economic dip.

“Today should not only serve as a reminder of the day the British handed over the reins of power to Nigerians, but also unified Nigerians from all ethnic groups, religions and regions,” he said.

In this report we check 10 claims about vaccines, the economy, road construction, water, insecurity, school feeding and more. 

We asked the president's special adviser on media and publicity, and State House, for the source of the claims, but they are yet to respond.


“Some 5 million vaccine doses have been administered to Nigerians …”


Mostly correct

Buhari condemned global vaccine inequity and said Nigeria was exploring ways to get safe and effective vaccines for its citizens. These include buying vaccines through international vaccination programmes such as Covax and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust.

But have 5 million Nigerians received a Covid-19 vaccine jab?

Data from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, the organisation in charge of giving the vaccines, shows that 1.79 million Nigerians had received the second dose, and were considered fully vaccinated, by 21 September 2021. 

It also shows that 4.5 million Nigerians had received one vaccine shot

We rate the claim mostly correct.


“In the northeast region alone, over 8,000 Boko Haram terrorists have surrendered.”


Mostly Correct

Nigeria has weathered a 12-year running battle with Boko Haram insurgents. More recently, since 2015, this conflict has been mainly confined to the northeastern part of the country. (Note: See our factsheet for more information on the terrorist organisation and its violent insurgency.)

In 2015, Buhari ran for the presidency with an election promise that “no force, external or internal, will occupy even an inch of Nigerian soil”.  

Despite the gains claimed by Buhari, the group (which has now splintered) has carried out coordinated attacks on military formations. It has also taken over entire local councils and collected taxes from residents and farmers.

In September 2021, the commander of a military unit said 8,000 insurgents had surrendered to the army.  

Abdulwahab Eyitayo, an acting general officer commanding, said most of the insurgents who surrendered were the wives and children of terrorists, or had been forcefully recruited.

‘Not time to celebrate yet’

Taking 8,000 insurgents into custody was at best a temporary gain, security expert Vitus Ukoji told Africa Check. 

Ukoji is the project coordinator at Nigeria Watch, which monitors lethal violence, conflicts, and human security in the country. He said the number was likely accurate but warned that the terrorist group still posed a threat. 

“It’s really not time to celebrate because Boko Haram is still recruiting. Poverty and high youth unemployment are drivers. There is also the suspicion that some of the insurgents that surrendered are not genuinely repentant,” he explained. 

“Assimilating them could harm society. It took several years to radicalise these insurgents. It would take a lot more than a six-month programme to deradicalise them."


“Our unrelenting effort at resolving an almost two-decade stalling on the management of our petroleum resources and ensuring equitable consideration to our host communities has resulted in the enactment of the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021.”



Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, successive governments have tried to develop new legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks for the oil and gas industry. 

In 2000, the Oil and Gas Sector Reform Implementation Committee was created to transform the industry. Four years later it drafted a national oil and gas policy.

Parliament approved the policy in 2007. A year later it had morphed into the Petroleum Industry Bill but it was only passed in July 2021. 

Buhari signed the bill into law in August. It provides the legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the industry and the development of host communities.

The law is expected to transform the sector by encouraging investments, stimulating focus on midstream operations, and improving the funding potentials for joint venture oil projects, Adewale Ajayi says in a report analysing the legislation’s potential.  

Ajayi is the head of tax, energy and natural resources at KPMG Nigeria, which provides audit, advisory, tax and regulatory services to various industries.

 (Note: Read our factsheet for more information on Nigeria’s ailing refineries.)


“Our economic diversification strategy remains on course with the persistent increase in non-oil sector contribution to GDP.”



Gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure of the size of a country’s economy. It is the market value of all goods and services produced in a given period, usually a year.

Data from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics shows that the non-oil sector’s contribution to GDP has fluctuated between 89% and 94% since 2014.

Buhari became president in May 2015. In that quarter (April to June), the non-oil sector contributed 90.2% to GDP. It rose to 91.94% of GDP at the end of that year and then dropped to 89.98% in the first quarter of 2016. 

From 2016 to the end of 2020, the sector's contribution to GDP fluctuated almost every quarter, as can be seen in the graph below. The trend continues in 2021, with 90.75% in the first quarter and 92.58% in the second.


“We recovered from economic recession in quarter four of 2020 with a GDP growth rate of 0.11% …”



A recession is defined as “two consecutive quarter-on-quarter negative growth rates”. 

The economy shrunk by 6.1% in the second quarter of 2020 after lockdowns and other Covid-19 restrictions began in March 2020. In the third quarter of the year, the economy shrank by 3.62%

Then in the fourth quarter of 2020, GDP grew by 0.11%.


“The agricultural sector [contributed] 22.35% and 23.78% to the overall GDP in the first and second quarters of 2021.”



Buhari said agriculture remained key to his administration’s “economic diversification efforts”. 

The sector did indeed make up 22.35% of GDP in the first quarter of 2021, and 23.78% in the second quarter.  

The statistics bureau presents sectors’ contributions to GDP in two ways. One is oil and non-oil. The other is agriculture, industries and services.

GDP data shows that agriculture has consistently contributed over 20% to GDP at least since 2012, three years before Buhari became president in 2015. 

In the past five years, agriculture’s contribution to GDP has been the second largest. Services have consistently led with over 50% for at least the past decade. See the chart below.


“The water projects we completed between 2015 to 2020 have improved Nigeria's access to potable water to 71% between 2015 and 2020.”



Buhari claimed that his administration had increased the proportion of people with access to potable water.

The WHO defines “potable water” as safe drinking water that  “does not represent any significant risk to health over a lifetime of consumption”.

Nigerian law requires that all water supplies intended for human consumption must comply with the Nigerian Standards for Drinking Water Quality. These limit the concentration of substances known to be health hazards, or likely to be the subject of complaints from consumers. 

Among other things, drinking water acceptable by law in Nigeria should not be contaminated by E coli and other bacteria commonly found in faeces. 

The water standards were developed by the water resources ministry, the health ministry and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria

Basic drinking water vs safely managed water  

We traced Buhari’s figure of 71% to a 2019 report on progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene from 2000 to 2017 jointly produced by the World Health Organization and Unicef

The report says the share of Nigerians with access to at least basic water supplies rose from 48% in 2000 to 71% in 2017.  

The WHO and Unicef define basic drinking water as “drinking water from an improved source, provided collection time is not more than 30 minutes for a round trip, including queuing”. 

Improved sources include piped water, boreholes or tube wells, protected dug wells, protected springs, rainwater, and packaged or delivered water, according to the report. 

But it also says the percentage of Nigerians with access to “safely managed water” rose from 15% in 2000 to 20% in 2017. 

The report defines safely managed water as “drinking water from an improved source that is accessible on premises, available when needed and free from faecal and priority chemical contamination”. 

Transporting water may lead to contamination 

The 2021 edition of the report looks at worldwide changes in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene from 2015 to 2020. 

For Nigeria, access to at least basic drinking water supplies rose from 69% in 2015 to 78% in 2020. Access to safely managed water rose from 20% in 2015 to 22% in 2020.

Both basic and safely managed drinking could be considered potable water, Auwal Bappa, a water, sanitation and hygiene consultant with Unicef in northern Nigeria, told Africa Check. 

“The ultimate goal is safely managed water but basic drinking water is also acceptable. Both are safe,” he said. 

“The main difference is that a basic water supply is located outside the home and so there is a higher chance of contamination in the course of transportation. However, the water fetched from a distance can still be treated at home. So both basic and safely managed can be considered potable water.” 

Most water projects not by government

Buhari’s statistic about access to potable water is accurate but his claim that government water projects drove the increase is misleading. 

A 2019 survey by the water ministry, the statistics bureau, Unicef and other organisations found that federal, state and local governments provide less than 30% of all water points in Nigeria. 

The report says “about 70% of all community water points are provided by non-government actors”. 

Water, sanitation and hygiene expert Priscilla Achakpa told Africa Check that civil society and private individuals were largely responsible for access to drinking water across Nigeria. Achakpa is the founder and global president of the Women Environmental Programme. She was the national coordinator of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council from 2017 to 2020.   

“The majority of water projects in the country are done by NGOs or private individuals, and they are mostly boreholes. This is the situation in both rural and urban areas,” she said. “I know that not many Nigerians drink water supplied by government agencies."


“This means 12.5 million additional Nigerians now have direct access to potable water.”



The 2021 report on progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, jointly produced by WHO and Unicef, provides figures for Nigeria’s access to basic and safely managed drinking water in 2015 and 2020. 

It uses 181.14 million as Nigeria’s population estimate in 2015, with 206.14 million in 2020.

Some 69% of people had access to basic drinking water in 2015, according to the report. This comes to about 124.98 million people. In 2020, access to at least basic drinking water had risen to 78%, or 160.79 million people. 

This means about 35.8 million more Nigerians gained access to at least basic drinking water from 2015 to 2020. Buhari’s claim of 12.5 million people is an understatement.


“We currently have over 13,000 kilometres of roads and bridges under construction all over the country.”



Buhari’s goal to ensure all states have good road networks has led him to invest large amounts of money in road projects. But is his claim about the extent of those projects correct?  

Data from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing shows that the federal government is executing 895 contracts in 795 projects covering more than 13,000 kilometres of roads and bridges nationwide.


“The National Home Grown School Feeding Programme is currently being implemented in 35 states of the federation and the FCT.”


Mostly Correct

The National Home Grown School Feeding Programme was launched in 2016. Led by the government, it seeks to improve the health and education of children in public primary schools with N70 a day (around $0.17 at the time of publishing). Nigeria has 36 states, plus the federal capital territory (FCT). 

But despite the success of the feeding programme in 34 states and the FCT, Kwara and Bayelsa states are yet to implement it. 

In 2020, Kwara expressed interest in joining the programme and was even recorded as the 35th state to join, but hasn’t rolled it out yet. 

‘N70 daily is not enough’

Oriyomi Ogunwale, project lead at Eduplana, told Africa Check that while the claim was correct, there was a need to review the programme.

“N70 is not enough, and it has never been enough,” he said. “It should be increased to N200 or more. But we should not just focus on increasing the amount. We should look into monitoring and evaluation. There should be transparency and accountability.” Eduplana is a civic tech organisation that uses data to advocate for quality education in Nigeria.

Ogunwale said more information was needed on the programme, such as whether children were eating the food and its impact on school attendance.

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