Bola Tinubu inauguration: the five tests awaiting Nigeria’s new president

  • By Nduka Orjinmo
  • BBC News, Abuja

Nigeria is often referred to as the “giant of Africa” ​​given its huge population and economic potential, but it also has some gigantic problems – and that is what Bola Tinubu will face when he becomes president on Monday.

The 71-year-old is unlikely to be fazed by the challenges. As a two-time governor of Lagos, he has breathed new life into Nigeria’s commercial center – no easy task – and he is well aware of the problems.

But Nigerians, even those who did not vote for him, will want to see Mr Tinubu’s first results. Here are some of the major hurdles he faces and how to tackle them.

Stop the fuel subsidy

This challenge has been shelved by successive governments since its introduction in the 1970s.

Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria is unable to refine enough crude oil to meet local demand, so it imports petroleum products, which are then sold at a price set by the government. Because this is usually lower than the import price, the government pays the difference.

caption image,

Cheap fuel is seen by many Nigerians as their right given the country’s oil wealth

But this subsidy is taking a huge toll on dwindling public finances. Last year it gobbled up 4.3 trillion naira ($9.3 billion; £7.5 billion) and 3.36 trillion naira was budgeted for the first half of this year.

These payments come at the expense of development goals such as building schools or hospitals, but getting rid of the subsidy will not be easy as it will lead to price increases.

The last attempt to do so in 2012 ended in mass protests.

Many struggling Nigerians, accustomed to seeing politicians mismanage the country’s oil wealth, believe that cheap gasoline is their share of what has been described as the “national cake”.

But Mr Tinubu has strongly reiterated that the subsidy must go, and his associates claim he has the political will to do it.

“He has the ability to listen and consult widely before making tough decisions,” Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola, a close colleague who succeeded Tinubu as governor of Lagos in 2007, told the BBC.

One area he can look into to mitigate the impact is subsidizing and improving public transport – something he has experience with following the implementation of a major public transport scheme in Lagos that established high-speed bus connections.

The outgoing government has also managed to secure an $800 million loan from the World Bank aimed at strengthening its welfare scheme for vulnerable Nigerians, who will be most affected by the loss of the grant. However, lawmakers have yet to approve the package – so it’s not a foregone conclusion.

Only 37% of voters supported Tinubu, making him the Nigerian president elected with the fewest votes since 1999.

He won a hotly contested election that was not only rancorous, but also exposed ethnic and religious divisions that still persist in even Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Video caption,

Nigeria’s new president hits a bulging inbox

He will have to do a balancing act when it comes to choosing his government to build bridges across these divides.

There are signs he is already doing so, reportedly meeting with two opposition politicians since winning the vote in February:

  • Musa Kwankwaso, a powerful rival from the north, who came in third
  • Nyesom Wike, the influential and outgoing governor of Rivers State.

As governor of Lagos, Mr. Tinubu had probably the most ethnically diverse cabinet in Nigeria, appointing non-Lagosians to key positions, which is still a rarity.

“He’s more interested in technocrats who are thinkers and researchers,” his friend Seye Oyetade told the BBC.

But politicians, often with common interests, may be easier to appease than the millions of young Nigerians who didn’t vote for him – especially those who supported the Labor Party’s Peter Obi.

Many of them view the ballot as flawed, although the Election Commission denies this – and an election challenge is still pending in court.

Close allies say Mr Tinubu could win over some of them by providing jobs and involving young people in governance.

“You will see a government that will embrace new ideas and technology and by extension you will see a lot of young people around it,” explains Fashola.

Restore the economy

Most agree that this is Mr. Tinubu’s area of ​​expertise as a trained accountant, but things have never looked this bad for Nigeria:

  • One in three is unemployed
  • Inflation is at a record high of 22%
  • 96 million people live below the poverty line of $1.90 a day
  • GDP per capita (the economic output the average person produces in a year) was $2,065 for 2021 (compared to $70,248 for the US and $46,510 for the UK)
  • Low revenues due to declining oil sales.

Mr Oyetade dismisses such statistics: “These are not much different from what he encountered in Lagos in 1999.”

This may be an exaggeration, but Tinubu’s use of technology to improve tax collection in Lagos has been remarkable, increasing revenues by more than 400% in eight years.

caption image,

It can be difficult to get hold of foreign currency, leading to a widening gap between official and black market rates

He has spoken several times about his ambition to broaden the tax net, but this may be more difficult to replicate on a national level given the high inflation, rising poverty and widespread insecurity that often keep people from working.

Mr Tinubu also favors a more private sector led approach, unlike his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, who wanted to strengthen national social safety nets.

But it is his relationship with Godwin Emefiele, the central bank governor, that will be key.

The incoming president has criticized the bank’s policy of using multiple exchange rates.

This keeps the naira artificially high – the official exchange rate is 460 naira: $1, available to different categories of people who have to apply and wait for it to be available.

Anyone else who wants forex should use the parallel rate – currently 760 naira: $1, which means there is an ever widening gap between the official and the black market.

To allow for a review, Mr. Tinubu will have to work with Mr. Emefiele, who must serve another year as governor.

The two have a rocky relationship following the central bank’s decision to redesign the local currency – which led to massive cash shortages – just before the election. This was seen by some as a ploy to destroy the ruling party’s chances of winning the vote – allegations which Mr Emefiele denies.

Kidnapping and insecurity

Given the scale of the problem, Mr. Tinubu will want to get to grips with this quickly. His government will face armed criminals on motorcycles in the Northwest, nationwide kidnappings and a violent separatist group in the Southeast. Deadly clashes between farmers and herders also continue in the central states.

During the election campaign, Tinubu’s deputy, incoming Vice President Kashim Shettima, said this would be his job – touting his experience as governor of the northeastern state of Borno, home to many Islamist militant groups and the Boko Haram insurgency.

caption image,

Relatives of the abductees are distraught and desperate to raise money for ransom

But Nigeria’s security challenges have evolved since he left office in 2019 and President Buhari, a former army general, has failed miserably to find an answer during his eight years in power – instead, insecurity in the country has escalated. escalated across the country.

The Tinubu-Shettima plan involves using anti-terrorist battalions with special forces to go after the kidnappers and extremist groups.

More importantly, they have proposed freeing police personnel from VIP security and surveillance duties, which would allow more officers to take to the streets to fight crime.

Keeping fit – and other distractions

Opponents of the new president say he has lost the vitality he used to vigorously modernize Lagos.

Since the election, he has traveled abroad twice, raising questions about his health. In 2021 he spent months in London where he was treated for an unknown illness.

Brushing off the criticism, he said the job does not require the fitness of an Olympic athlete and that his staff are quick to remind everyone that US President Joe Biden is older, at 80.

But Nigerians are tired of seeing presidents spend a lot of time in hospitals abroad, leading to a battle between governments for control. This happened under both Mr. Buhari and Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in office in 2010.

They are also concerned about potential controversies. Ahead of the vote, Mr Tinubu denied several allegations of narcotics and corruption links.

It has been revealed since his victory that he was once issued a Guinean diplomatic passport – which is not illegal but was not previously disclosed. While a Bloomberg investigation said his son owns an £11 million mansion in London. Neither Mr. Tinubu, his son, nor his allies have commented on the report and it has not been confirmed that Mr. Tinubu was involved in the purchase.

Allies of Mr Tinubu will be concerned that further allegations could distract him from the huge job he is about to take on.

Leave a comment