As you read this, Nigeria’s President-elect, Bola Tinubu (pictured above) is preparing to take office. The challenges that his new administation is about to confront will represent the first real test of its preparedness for governance and signpost what the future holds for the country.
With crippling debts, huge inflation, heightened levels of insecurity, persistent corruption and a massive unemployment challenge, Nigeria’s new government would need to pull several rabbits out of the hat to stop the rot that has stifled Africa’s largest economy.
More than at any other time during his eight-year rule, Nigeria’s outgoing President, Muhammadu Buhari, has had to confront tough social realities in the last six months, when it seemed like the country had reached a precipice.
Buhari’s government had its work cut out trying to tackle a series of unfortunate events that included a poorly managed currency redesign policy that has seen a depletion of the country’s currency in circulation, a grinding fuel supply shortage and a struggling economy.
Nigeria’s next government will have to deal with a security crisis that has claimed thousands of lives in the last four years and slowed economic growth. While the Boko Haram insurgents have been dealt a serious blow and there has been some let-up in terror attacks across major hotbeds in the north, insecurity still remains a major concern that needs to be addressed. There may also be a need to seek strong regional cooperation in tackling insecurity as the challenge has become more a regional one that criss-crosses West Africa’s notoriously porous borders.
With a strong lead from Nigeria’s new government, a regional approach beyond joint military operations and a push towards more coordination among intelligence networks across West African states may deal a far more effective blow to insurgencies. The new government would also be wise to study the new UNDP report, The Journey to Extremism in Africa, on the root causes of violent extremism in the continent and reshape its approach.
Also, demands for secession by the outlawed group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB), who claim marginalisation of the Igbo ethnic group, have continued to stir violence in Nigeria’s eastern states. Attacks by gunmen who claim to be members of the IPoB have resulted in hundreds of deaths and the destruction of several federal establishments in the east.
As a matter of urgency, Nigeria’s new government will have to find a lasting solution that addresses the demands of a large part of the Igbo population for more political inclusion in the affairs of the Nigerian state and halt the spate of violent attacks that have severely affected commercial activities in a region known for its entrepreneurial prowess.
Some commentators say the government would do well to hold back from violent suppression of these demands and address an issue that has become key to Nigeria’s continued existence as a state by organising a conference to reassess Nigeria’s federal structure. They insist that Nigeria’s current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the country’s economic and political development.
There are many who consider the demand for a conference unnecessary because that responsibility already rests with the National Assembly and not a separate entity. Also, previous conferences have done little to address these issues. Since the Nigerian Constitution does not allow referendums, it would be hard to determine if the demands of these groups have widespread support and if the government’s approach should appease these calls or treat such agitations as treason. This is an important consideration.
Beyond the economic implications, urgent steps would need to be taken to address ethnic, sectarian and religious fault-lines that have stretched the country almost to breaking point. The polarisation is evident in conversations that have been influenced by toxic rhetoric peddled in the country’s mainstream and social media.
Nigeria’s new government would need to take urgent steps over national reconciliation and take measures to curb inciting rhetoric in the media.
Revamping struggling economy
Nigeria’s new government will have to confront an economy that has been severely hit by spiralling inflation, which, in spite of a recent downtick, still marked an over 17-year high at 21.3% at the start of 2023. The new government will be faced with a massive debt burden of about N80trn ($170bn) and need to get cracking at implementing strategies to reduce the debt portfolio.
There may be some good news as the United Nations, in its 2023 World Economic Situation and Prospects report predicts that the Nigerian economy is expected to grow by 3% in 2023. Nevertheless, this projection does not hide the obvious current economic hardship that most Nigerians are grappling with.
With the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), in its 2023 Macroeconomic Outlook report titled Nigeria in Transition: Recipes for Shared Prosperity, projecting that the country’s unemployment rate will hit 37% and that the poverty headcount will also rise to 45%, the new government has its work cut out.
Any effort at revamping the struggling economy will require far more sweeping social intervention schemes than the conditional cash transfers and school meals implemented by Buhari’s government, which are estimated to have only reached 10m people, about five per cent of the population.
Many believe that it is time for Nigeria to start considering the implementation of a major social intervention programme that would not only take in a lot more of the country’s growing unemployed but also confront an age-old corruption that has compromised such programmes in the past.
With one of the widest energy gaps in the world, Nigeria’s power supply deficit has had a negative impact on growth. Nigeria’s new government will have to expedite efforts to address this challenge if any significant shift is expected in its economic fortunes.
Persistent grid collapses and low generation capacity present major obstacles to building a resilient economy. According to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) First Quarter 2022 Report, published in January 2023, Nigeria’s available power generation capacity in the First Quarter of 2022 decreased to 4,712.34MW from 5,465.72MW in the Fourth Quarter of 2021, and this for a population of over 200m people.
According to the experts, addressing Nigeria’s power problems would require building necessary infrastructure for the generation, transmission and distribution of available megawatts of electricity. There is also the need to diversify the country’s sources of energy supply and develop renewable energy sources.
Fog of corruption
On corruption, the path seems even foggier for Nigeria’s new government, faced with the task of addressing a problem that has been impossible to tackle for all previous governments, even the outgoing one that made the eradication of corruption one of its major goals.
An initial blitz that appeared as a major purge of top public officers involved in huge cash diversions has been overtaken by a public focus on the growing levels of insecurity and slow economic recovery that the country is currently dealing with.
By now, any chance of Buhari recording any radical shift in attitudes through his anti-corruption campaign has been lost. His government has not been able to convince a growing number of Nigerians that the campaign is unbiased, or that the necessary system overhaul (including of the constitution) required to abolish political prerogative in the anti-corruption drive will ever be implemented.
Nigeria’s political leadership may try to gloss over it, but a reassessment of the country’s obscure federal system is paramount in fixing the problem of corruption. However, many believe
that that demand has been strongly opposed because of successive governments’ refusal to admit that the current political challenges have been created by a deeply flawed governance model.
Nigeria’s political framework thrives on an entrenched public perception that the country’s financial resources are meant to appease geopolitical interests and demands.
This, and the huge financial allocations disbursed among states with boundaries drawn along largely ethnic lines – and handed to governors covered by constitutional immunity from prosecution, further feeds the impunity of Nigeria’s political elite.
The new government’s efforts at dealing with the many crises that the country currently faces will be a major indication of its preparedness to govern and may set the path for the country’s healing or its eventual rupture.