Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The journey to 2023

The Buhari government is faced with troubling policy and governance challenges – a worsening security context with more-or-less a breakdown of law and order…

• December 10, 2021
Opeyemi Agbaje
Opeyemi Agbaje

As 2021 rounds up, it is already very evident that 2022 may be almost entirely devoted to the battle to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. The Buhari government is faced with troubling policy and governance challenges – a worsening security context with more-or-less a breakdown of law and order in the North-West, North-East and many parts of the North-Central as terrorists and insurrectionists (otherwise called bandits) kill, maim and destroy, kidnapping oftentimes for ransom, and killing seemingly without reason or logic. The state of anarchy which in my law classes in the context of the 20th and 21st centuries, I regarded as a mere philosophical construct that belonged to ages long past, is now with us in Nigeria, and the government appears both unwilling and unable to do anything about it.

While it grapples with the security conundrum in which we find ourselves, the economic policy challenges confronting Buhari and his advisers are no less dire. Data from government’s own National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) suggests that unemployment which has risen from 5.1% in 2010 to over 33% by 2020, underemployment which moved from 16.3% to 22.8% over the same time frame and poverty which now afflicts over 80 million Nigerians have gotten out of hand! It is clear there is a direct link between the dire social conditions of our people all over Nigeria and particularly in Northern Nigeria, and the dangerous security scenario we are confronted with. How can anyone expect peace in a country with tens of millions of poor, uneducated and jobless people? Anyone who wants peace (and security) in Nigeria must now focus policy on education in terms of both quantity and quality; youth skills acquisition, mass poverty reduction and alleviation and employment generation. In short, we must focus on the social causes of crime, insecurity, insurrection and terrorism in addition to our policing, military and counter-terrorism based strategies to confront these ills.

The government also has at the same time to deal with very weak and worsening fiscal conditions! The government’s 2022 budget proposals for instance, admits a budget deficit of N6Trillion and debt service/revenue ratio running close to one hundred percent of total revenues! The issue of deregulation of the downstream petroleum industry, which is now legally mandated by the Petroleum Industry Act presents government with a complex policy, financial, political and credibility conundrum-Buhari staked a lot of his personal credibility on the issue of petroleum subsidies! He disputed their existence and promised Nigerians cheap oil. He has already, by his actions, recanted as petrol prices have continued to increase but the fresh increase required to bring a deregulated downstream market into market equilibrium may destroy whatever is left of his personal credibility.

The morale of the story for other politicians should be “be very careful what you say during the campaigns” but then do over-optimistic politicians ever learn? Given the state of Nigeria’s mass poverty and unemployment, insecurity and very complicated fiscal situation, it should be difficult to find persons who want the job of Nigeria’s presidency, but the large number of aspirants to the office tells you policy is not the primary motivation for public office in Nigeria!

A report prepared by RTC Advisory Services Ltd, the firm of strategy, policy and business advisors which I chair, identified more than twenty persons who may be presumed to be interested in Nigeria’s presidency in 2023. These persons may or may not have declared interest in the office; and may be taking explicit or implicit actions in pursuit of the office, or may simply be positioned in the minds of many Nigerians to aspire to the office hence their names are regularly suggested in the context of the office. Many of the names listed in the report are from Nigeria’s Yoruba-dominated Western states with Bola Tinubu, former governor of the country’s richest state, Lagos leading the news. Tinubu believes he is owed the office, by virtue of the role he played in the formation of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and installation of Buhari That, his greatest credential, may also be his greatest test!

Whether implicit or explicit, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo must be considered a viable contender for the throne. By 2023, he would have spent eight years as Nigeria’s number 2, working closely with his boss, Buhari, who may yet play a decisive role in the APC presidential primaries. Osinbajo may be less-threatening to powerful interest groups than some of the alternatives. Governor Kayode Fayemi must also be considered a strong alternative. A two-term governor, he is also a trusted APC insider and has acquitted himself well as Chairman of the influential Nigerian Governors Forum. Former Governor and Senator Ibikunle Amosun often gets a mention as well. Many policy-focused Nigerians wonder why an Akinwunmi Adesina of the AfDB cannot be Nigeria’s president and I recently heard one analyst mention Niyi Adebayo and Babatunde Fashola.

There will of course be other options within the APC outside the South-West, though the region may be presumed to have a clear advantage-some in the North strangely want former President Goodluck Jonathan whom APC demonized and ridiculed to take the presidency. Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi continues to make noise about his aspiration and if the Western candidates engage in a “fight-to-finish”, they may open the door for some Northern candidates (who appear to have settled for the Vice-Presidency) to quietly re-enter the race. I can presume that other leading politicians within the APC from the South-East and South-South (including Rotimi Amaechi and Governor Umahi) may also be interested, though that option is yet to gain traction.

On the PDP side, Atiku Abubakar, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Bukola Saraki appear to be current front-runners though it is too early to be definitive. Atiku remains formidable and may run this (final?) race with everything he has-financially, politically and spiritually! Some younger PDP elements may prefer the two others, Saraki and Tambuwal but in all the calculations, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike will have a big say! It is interesting to see former Senate President Anyim expressing interest and Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Peter Obi may not be disinterested in the Presidency or Vice-Presidency. Senator David Mark remains potentially very influential within the PDP.

In the “third party” platforms, we will probably see Dr Kingsley Muoghalu contest once again, with former INEC chairman Professor Attahiru Jega (whom the North owes a payback!) also possibly joining the fray, as well as one Malik Ado-Ibrahim and Professor Pat Utomi. Omoyele Sowore may also feature again.  

 The electoral cycle will coincide with a continuing global health pandemic, worsening insecurity and insurrection, and mass poverty and unemployment afflicting millions of hungry and angry Nigerians thus increasing risk factors around the transition. I will be watching very closely.

Opeyemi Agbaje is the CEO of RTC Advisory and former Head of Department, Lagos Business School, Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship, Social and Political Environment of Business and Business Law.

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